TAMPA — The world’s largest furniture manufacturer is now doing business in Ybor City.
Ashley Furniture officially opened a new e-commerce center in Centro Ybor Tuesday, bringing 200 jobs to Tampa and the promise of 150 more as its business expands.
The company will coordinate its worldwide online sales operation from the 78,000 square foot facility it created by converting eight theater screens at the Muvico movie theater on Eighth Avenue in the heart of Ybor City. Employees there will work on web design, product selection and advertising with the building also serving as corporate offices.
Officials including Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Ron Wanek, the founder and chairman of Ashley Furniture, hailed its opening as a success story for Tampa and Florida.
“By cutting tax and reducing regulation, by making sure that businesses are more successful, you can create all these jobs,” Scott said, speaking at a opening ceremony held Tuesday. It included a color guard and national anthem, and an Ashley furniture truck as a backdrop.
Ashley’s choice of Ybor is further evidence of the area’s renaissance, Buckhorn said. The historic community has already seen several projects for new hotels, offices and apartment buildings break ground with more still on the drawing board.
“Like Tampa, Ybor City is on the verge of something special,” Buckhorn said.
But the Ashley deal needed a kickstart from the taxpayer. The state, Hillsborough County and the City of Tampa all contributed incentives to bring the company to Ybor.
The company will receive $320,000 in tax refunds through the state’s Qualified Target Industries program provided it meets targets for job creation. The jobs must pay an average of about $49,000 to qualify for the funding.
Job creation has been the top priority for Scott, who is in his final term as governor. This year he asked the Legislature to find $250 million for Enterprise Florida, the private-public partnership that negotiates financial incentives with companies considering bringing new jobs to Florida.
But the incentives are sometimes derided as “corporate welfare” by some groups including Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group founded and funded by Charles and David Koch.
Scott said the incentives like those given to Ashley are needed to compete with other states and other countries but stressed that firms don’t benefit unless they create the jobs they promised.
“We don’t give you a dime until you generate the job and you make the capital investment,” he said. “As a taxpayer you’re guaranteed to get a return on your money before any money is put out.”
Scott said Florida has added more than 1 million jobs since he took office in 2011. That includes 41,000 new jobs in Tampa last year, the most in the state, Scott said.
“Every job is important and every job changes a family,” he said.
Ashley officials declined to say how much the company spent renovating half of the Muvico theater but described the project as a multi-million dollar project. State records show the company must spend $16 million on capital projects to qualify for the incentive.
The project took almost a year including four months of demolition when workers had to use jackhammers to dismantle the mortar used to sound-proof each theater, said Ken Jones, CEO of Third Lake Capital who worked with Ashley on the project.
Ashley officials decided to keep two cinema screens to use to screen training films and possibly for employee screenings of movies.
In a nod to Ybor’s famous 7th Avenue, it includes a balcony.