TAMPA — I'm not sure whether to credit the mushroom ricotta stuffed Paccheri pasta or wild boar lasagna at the Cena restaurant.

Such tasty Italian fare, it can be argued, is at least one good reason a billion-dollar company based in a Tampa office park near I-75 committed to relocate its headquarters and 250 employees to downtown Tampa's Channel District.

Tampa's Quality Distribution Inc., a long established area bulk transport trucking business, plans to move downtown, committing to a 10-year lease for 45,000 square feet of commercial office space inside the Grand Central at Kennedy building.

Quality Distribution looked far and wide across the Tampa Bay region for a new headquarters site. It helped immensely that CEO Gary Enzor frequents Cena. By so doing, he grew more familiar with the potential of the immediate downtown area that includes adjacent Grand Central at Kennedy.

Funny how big happenings can blossom from simple things like good food.

This is a coup for many. Quality Distribution's move means it will become one of the early (with more to come) corporate relocations in and near the Channel District. The district in turn is part of the far larger space starting to be transformed by Strategic Property Partners, the joint venture of Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates-backed Cascade Investment.

Another winner in this deal is Mercury Advisors, which developed Grand Central at Kennedy. Director Ken Stoltenberg says the 45,000-square-foot space is the largest office space deal so far this year in the Tampa Bay area. The $4 million or so buildout of the space will start soon so that Quality Distribution can move in as early as September. Headquarter signage, Stoltenberg says, will be viewable from the Crosstown Expressway.

"This is big. We're excited," the Mercury Advisors executive says.

"Regardless of where you work, certain things are important," he adds — "like having a walkable urban neighborhood for all your employees."

After the withering recession, things have picked up considerably of late. Of 392 condo units in Grand Central at Kennedy, only 11 are unsold.

Another potential winner is Vinik and his $3 billion, 50-acre joint venture. While Quality Distribution isn't a household name, it is a solid player in the bulk transport of chemicals and foodstuffs. And its 250 HQ employees will be only to happy to spend their money where they work. Some may even choose to live close enough to walk to their new offices.

Quality Distribution's arrival may also spur more office space in the area as developers sense momentum. Stoltenberg cites Vinik and fellow developers Larry Feldman and Port Tampa Bay as players to watch.

"We are thrilled with what Jeff Vinik is doing," he says.

Still, a project of Strategic Property Partners' size is a 20- to 30-year undertaking.

Stoltenberg laughs. Patience is a virtue in most real estate deals. He says it took 15 years of prodding Publix before the chain agreed to open a nearby downtown supermarket. It is slated to open later this year.

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