tampabay.com

Sitting pretty

Its history in other cities indicates that if Ikea arrives, an area thrives.

By RICK GERSHMAN
Published June 22, 2007


The change is still two years off, but if it happens, as expected, these two are going to make for strange neighbors. On the north side of Adamo Drive: Ybor City. The party district with the deep cultural heritage, built by Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants. Cigars and bars. Streetcars and sink-or-swim clubs. On the other side of Adamo, come summer 2009: Ikea. The popular Swedish furniture store best known for its modern, utilitarian design. The building, an enormous blue box with few windows. In a preliminary vote last week, the City Council approved a rezoning request that paves the way for Ikea to set up in the largely industrial area. A final vote is slated for June 28. In the meantime, we talked to business officials in numerous cities where Ikeas have sprung up in recent years. The word is that an Ikea will bring change to this area east of downtown.

It will bring jobs. It will bring customers.

It also will bring more businesses, everything from new retail to dining spots, and possibly even more residences.

The story is much the same, from Philadelphia to Tempe, Ariz., from Seattle to San Diego:

When Ikea arrives, the area thrives.

Spurring development

In Atlanta, a new Ikea delivered an enormous economic impact, officials said. And it also led the way to opening a 1.7-million-square-foot distribution center at the nearby Port of Savannah, which local officials point to as another coup for business and employment.

"Ikea's a great company, and it's certainly delivered economically, " said Jennifer Zeller of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Renee Lopata, of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, saw similar advantages in her city.

"I know it sounds strange, but there really haven't been any negatives, only positives."

Dollar figures are hard to come by, but several chamber officials said Ikea's impact to their cities in tax dollars is considerable - thanks to the store itself, and the businesses it draws.

Tom Keating, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce, welcomes the Swedes with open arms.

"I think everybody loves it, " Keating said. "Everyone feels it will bring people into Tampa from Sarasota to Crystal River."

In some cities, other home furnishing chains have opened near the local Ikeas.

That's what happened in Tempe, Lopata said: "It was kind of the last undeveloped area of Tempe. Now it's like a furniture mecca, with several other high-end midsize furniture stores."

In others, the store's impact has led a resurgence at nearby retail and dining options. That trend would be a positive for surrounding neighborhoods if it continues in Tampa.

Ikea would share the south side of Adamo, a.k.a. State Road 60, with Palmetto Beach. That community, long a sleepy working-class area with a waterfront stretch, soon will face new development in the form of condos and townhomes. Residents there believe Ikea will bring even more activity to their changing neighborhood.

"We think it's really going to open people up to Ybor - they'll come here, have lunch here, " Keating said.

"And home decorating has always been a focus for Ybor, with the art galleries. I definitely think it will give us more foot traffic as a base as a creative district."

The flip side

Still, something as huge and popular as an Ikea store is bound to create an issue or two. The Tampa branch would cover more than 350, 000 square feet on a 29-acre site.

When Ikea opened in Tempe in November 2004, traffic backed up so far on the nearest Interstate 10 off-ramp, police had to close it to spread the volume to other exits.

Similar traffic snarls have affected new Ikeas for several months after their openings. And if Tampa's Ikea prompts more businesses to open nearby, as is expected, that will just add to the volume.

Projections suggest the Ikea could approximately double the traffic coming off the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway during the afternoon peak traffic times.

The anticipated effect on Adamo Drive would be less severe, adding about 25 percent to the existing volume, according to estimates from city transportation officials.

Keating also shared a concern that was noted at a recent Tampa City Council meeting - Adamo Drive, eight lanes wide, is not easy to cross on foot. That could dampen Ikea's power to boost business in surrounding areas.

Without some pedestrian-friendly improvements, it's hard to imagine people splitting their day at Ikea with lunch in Ybor. Keating hopes a shuttle system would alleviate that problem.

And Ikea isn't completely without detractors.

A store being built in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, N.Y., drew protests. Among the chief concerns: the city approved plans to let Ikea pave over a Civil War-era dock to build its parking lot.

At a recent Tampa City Council meeting, council member Linda Saul-Sena questioned how Ikea could call itself environmentally friendly while planning a massive, 1, 615-space parking lot.

"This is a sea of asphalt, " she said. "It's acres and acres and acres of heat-producing asphalt."

Though Saul-Sena acknowledged being a fan of the store, she was the only council member to vote against the company's rezoning request at the most recent council meeting last week, noting her concerns about the parking lot.

Still, Ikea spokesman Joseph Roth says the positives Ikea brings to communities outweigh its negatives.

"In some cities we (attract) other great retailers, bookstores, movie theaters, electronics stores. We get the entire gamut of things we sell, and the things we don't sell."

Rick Gershman can be reached at rgershman@sptimes.com or 226-3431.