Ybor City ‘is where millennials want to be,’ Ashley Furniture CEO says

May 21, 2015

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer, Tampa Bay Business Journal
The CEO of Ashley Furniture Industries said he knew right away that Centro Ybor was “the perfect location” for his company’s U.S. e-commerce headquarters.
Todd Wanek said Thursday that he considered San Francisco and New York City before deciding on Tampa’s Ybor City. His company has a distribution center in Brandon, where some e-commerce employees have been working since last year.
“This is where millennials want to be,” Wanek said. “They want to be in urban environments where there’s a lot going on, whether it’s restaurants or bars or other activities.”
The company on Thursday announced that it would establish its e-commerce headquarters in Centro Ybor, the mixed-use development in the heart of Ybor City.
Ashley Furniture will receive $320,000 in qualified target industry tax refunds over the next four years. The refunds are paid after the jobs are created. The state will pay $256,000 of the QTI refunds, with the city paying $57,000 and the county paying $7,000.
Third Lake Capital, the Wanek family’s private investment fund, is the financial partner of the Chicago-based ownership of Centro Ybor, M&J Wilkow. That partnership “happened some time ago,” Third Lake CEO Ken Jones said.
With several blocks of mixed-use buildings and historic storefronts, Ybor City is the best positioned of any of Tampa’s urban neighborhoods to become a truly walkable place. But as a longtime nightlife destination, Ybor has lacked the critical mass of residents necessary to sustain restaurants and retailer.
Ashley Furniture’s e-commerce center could help change that dynamic. Its office workers — several hundred over the next few years — will create the foot traffic necessary for urban vibrancy.
Ten of the movie theater’s 20 auditoria will be redeveloped to make way for the e-commerce offices in Centro Ybor. Of those 10, eight will be demolished and two will be kept as training facilities for Ashley Furniture.
It will be a modern, open space that is being designed to eventually accommodate up to 300 employees, said David Harvey, an executive with M&J Wilkow.
The Ybor office space is an investment in talent recruitment and retainment, Wanek said.
“It’s a very social environment and that’s what you want to create,” Wanek said, “and you want to have people inspired and motivated when they’re at work, which means you’ve gotta create that environment outside of work. We truly believe the combination of these two things is going to be very, very significant to our company.”
Wanek said he has met with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke on the mixed-use district Vinik is planning between the Channel district and downtown Tampa.
“We see a synergy [between that development] and what we’re doing here,” Wanek said. “Obviously there’s a little bit of time that has to evolve for Jeff’s plans to become fully played out and fully developed, but we feel this is just the right environment for us.”