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St. Petersburg-based Corporate Interiors opening downtown Tampa showroom

TAMPA

When a St. Petersburg office furnishing business wanted to expand to downtown Tampa, it chose a location with heavy foot traffic from corporate executives walking to their offices or grabbing lunch.

Corporate Interiors is opening a flagship showroom along Franklin Street in the center of downtown Tampa's restaurant and retail district. The 6,500-square-foot showroom will have examples of furniture, board rooms and office configurations that companies can choose from when designing their own space.

The location at 511 N Franklin St. won't have retail, but passers-by will be able to peek at the latest in office designs and, company officials hope, get inspired to redo their office digs. Employees started moving into the space Monday, and the grand opening is set for early April.

"We used to lose out on business because we only had the facility in St. Petersburg,'' said Manny Bhuller, the chief executive officer. "We wanted to be where the key players are.''

The move to downtown Tampa marks a milestone for the 30-year-old company, which like the rest of the office furnishing industry struggled during the recession when companies downsized or delayed remodeling. It coincides with a rebranding to the CI Group to reflect its growing product line and geographic reach. CI Group is the umbrella company for Corporate Interiors and CI Industrial, a seller of high-end industrial and warehouse equipment.

In 2008, Bhuller and Drew Marshall bought Corporate Interiors with plans to grow high-end corporate and government business and add locations. A West Point graduate and honorary commander at MacDill Air Force Base, Marshall is a disabled veteran due to an injury that reduced his hearing. Corporate Interiors qualifies for preferred vendor status with government entities.

As some office design competitors folded, Corporate Interiors grew from $12.6 million in revenue in 2007 to $27 million in 2012 and doubled its employees to 50. The company now has locations in Deerfield Beach, Jacksonville and Columbia, S.C., in addition to its corporate office on Commerce Avenue in St. Petersburg.

Company officials said the time was right to move into downtown Tampa, where many of its existing and potential clients have offices. Rather than work remotely, designers will meet with customers and show them the possibilities firsthand.

Corporate Interiors takes over a site that's also rebounding from the recession. Chris Kasten, an attorney with Bush Ross and a real estate investor, bought the three-story building in 2007 just as the commercial market was tightening. Once a Lerner department store, the 1921 building had housed various tenants on the first floor, but the second floor had been vacant for years.

Kasten rented some of the first floor as a temporary leasing center for the nearby Element apartments but couldn't find tenants for the entire space. Five years later, downtown Tampa is finally able to attract new businesses, thanks to more residents living downtown and improvements to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the Riverwalk, he said.

Corporate Interiors will occupy a narrow street-level storefront and most of the second floor. Along with Tun-Du-Ree and Fresh restaurants and Seer Analytics, it will nearly fill the 19,000-square-foot building for the first time in decades.

"I think it's a good use,'' Kasten said. "These people have a significant following. It will certainly add to things already going on downtown.''

Corporate Interiors liked the location but also the space, with its exposed brick walls, high ceilings and big windows. The showroom will have examples of the latest corporate office trends, from collaborative office spaces to work areas without barriers between employees and customers. Eventually, the showroom may become available to customers and partners for private events.

"The whole purpose is to raise our awareness in the Tampa community,'' said Marshall, company president. "We want the showroom to be extremely accessible.''

Corporate Interiors designs office spaces from idea to installation. It's the local distributor of Teknion furniture and has done work with Time Warner, Sykes Enterprises, Raymond James and the University of South Florida.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

St. Petersburg-based Corporate Interiors opening downtown Tampa showroom 03/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 10:59pm]

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