YBOR CITY — The field of dirt featured no sparkling showrooms, no cafeteria with Swedish meatballs, no stylish furniture to buy.
Yet Claire Pustarfi, Kelly Hickman and Charlene Beverly were giddy over the possibilities as they scurried across a dusty lot to attend Wednesday's Ikea store groundbreaking ceremony.
"I've been waiting for this for 17 years," said Pustarfi, 52, who used to shop at Ikea in New York before moving to Tampa. "I even took the day off work to be here. For 17 years, every time I've driven by an empty lot, I think, 'That would be a great place for an Ikea.' "
And now the Sweden-based home furnishing store, which will be south of Ybor City off Adamo Drive, is becoming a reality as it builds toward a summer 2009 opening date. Politicians, Ikea representatives and future shoppers flocked to the empty field and packed into a small air-conditioned tent to celebrate what Mayor Pam Iorio called "a great day in Tampa."
"People are going to come from all over to shop here," she said.
Why all the frenzy?
For starters, City Council member Tom Scott pointed out, the 353,000-square-foot store (the largest of three in Florida) is expected to create 400 jobs. The store offers full-time benefits to employees working as little as 20 hours per week.
There are already an estimated 100,000 Ikea customers in the Tampa Bay area, according to Ikea's public affairs director, Joseph Roth. They may drive to the Orlando store or shop by catalog. Iorio said she hopes Ybor City restaurants and shops will get spillover business from Ikea.
For people like Pustarfi, the store represents a luxury that she's wanted in her city for years.
"I can walk into an Ikea and love every single thing I see," she said. "What other store can you say that about?"
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.