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Ybor City experiences tech startup boom

Jack Kenney and Brett Lee have a foosball break at kitedesk.

Melissa Vernocy with kitedesk assists a kitedesk associate.

Brett Lee works at his illuminated desk at kitedesk.



Ybor City, best known as a tourist destination based on its traditionally crazy nightlife, is taking on a new persona in becoming somewhat demure and sophisticated as tech startups set up shop in the historic district.

Sure, Ybor still has its brick streets and historic buildings, and hints of nightlife still shine through as the sun comes up on a typical weekday; however, the neighborhood that was once a ghost town by day is now swarming with techies.
 
So what's up with the influx of tech-savvy entrepreneurs moving into this historical cigar-making, party town?
 
Sean Burke, CEO of Kitedesk, a software company whose product integrates features similar to Salesforce, social media sites like LinkedIn, as well as email and contact information for salespeople, sheds some light on why so many like himself are relocating companies to Ybor City.
 
“We wanted Ybor because it fits the dynamics of a technology company,” says Burke. “We don’t have a rigid floor plan like we did in downtown (Tampa); we have a creative space with a rooftop deck, which is awesome, something unconventional. Also, we wanted to have a place where people could work really hard like they do, then also socialize after work in an environment that would be within walking distance.”
 
Burke, whose company of 14 employees with plans to add 20 jobs by the end of 2016, goes on to say that another factor in his decision included Ybor’s free parking, which provides a big savings for him and his employees.


Welcome to a walkable neighborhood
 
Similarly, Kurt Schleicher, partner of S3 Media bought the office where he and his business partner run their company in Ybor.  Schleicher's web-design and marketing business located on 5th Avenue means he and his workers are within walking distance of everything they need.
 
“We bought this building three years ago, and it seems that other people are realizing that Ybor is a great place to own a business because you can live, work and play all in the same location,” Schleicher says. “I actually live just a few doors down from this office. I walk to work, I walk to lunch and when I have clients that visit, we like to walk to dinner. I’ve also found that the longer our employees work for us, the closer they start to move to our location because of the walkability of the area.”
 
In order to keep up with the influx of employees looking to be within walking distance of their job, there is a growing demand for residential development.
 
“I have six multi-family residential projects which are moving forward right now with permitting, says Vince Pardo, manager of Ybor City Development Corporation. “There will be approximately 350 units total.”
 
There are also several independent restaurants in Ybor for these techies to choose from when lunch hour rolls around, including Gaspar’s GrottoLa Creperia CaféAcropolis Greek Taverna, not to mention the historic Columbia Restaurant on 7th Avenue.

It's the environment people want
 
What else is drawing businesses and employees to Ybor?
 
“Ybor has a feeling to it, it's not stuffy,” Burke says. “There are a lot of different people walking around, people of all ages walking around, tourists coming in, diversity at different restaurants. It’s the small little things, such as when we take people out from out of town for lunch, one of the comments we get a lot is ‘what is with all the chickens? They are everywhere.’ Ybor has this quirkiness, but if you think about it, if you are going to work hard, it might as well be fun and interesting.”
 
Think about the contrast between walking the streets of downtown Tampa during lunch on a weekday, and doing the same through Ybor City. Downtown has a certain hustle and bustle environment, with professionals in suits grabbing lunch while talking on their cell phones. Ybor is more laid-back, with artists and techies in their casual attire traveling in groups talking with each other as they cross the street headed to a bar and grill. There is not the same sense of urgency to get back to the office.
 
Then there is the culture. Quirky? To some. Chickens everywhere? Apparently so. Ybor has something you do not find most places, a city where history meets the future. There is something poetic about tech startups doing their day-to-day grind in and around historic buildings. No matter how much time passes, Ybor still has the moniker of an old-time cigar-making city.
 
“Ybor will always be historic because that is what the district is about, but the number one use of the square footage of Ybor City is office space. Companies have been on second floors and in old cigar factories for a while now,” says Pardo. “The number of tech businesses is growing and will continue to grow as Ashley Furniture moves their e-commerce business AshComm in and brings 300 employees to the area. More and more businesses and people are realizing that instead of commuting, it is easier to just live where you work.”

Read more articles by Kimberly Patterson.

Kimberly Patterson is a news editor for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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