Officials break ground on the new IKEA location in Live Oak at the Interstate 35 and Loop 1604 interchange. Credit: Shari Biediger / San Antonio Report

Years in the making, Ikea, the largest furniture retailer in the world, is one step closer to reality for San Antonio area shoppers as officials broke ground at the store’s future site Wednesday morning.

“What a great day this is!” said Mary Dennis, mayor of the suburban municipality of Live Oak, where 31 acres of land near the Loop 1604 and Interstate 35 interchange is already being cleared for the 289,000-square-foot store.

Set to open in Spring 2019, the massive home goods store known for DIY furniture assembly and modernist, eco-friendly designs, joins four others in Texas. Since the Swedish company began expanding in the United States in 1985, it has built 47 Ikea stores nationwide. There are currently 414 Ikea stores worldwide in 49 countries.

Ikea is considered a destination retailer – and fans in San Antonio have been relying on a store more than 100 miles up I-35 in Round Rock for their affordable furniture and Swedish meatballs fix. Ikea estimates there are 180,000 Ikea-loyal customers in the area.

The Live Oak store will stock its 10,000 exclusively designed products, plus feature 50 room designs, three model homes, a supervised children’s play area, and Ikea’s restaurant, bistro, and food market. The store will occupy a parcel of land between Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union headquarters and Livingway Church.

“We don’t just build a store anywhere,” said Latisha Bracy-Emcee, spokeswoman for Ikea U.S. “And we don’t build them very often. So when we do, we make an economic commitment to the community where we are building.”

Construction of the store is supporting 500 jobs, and when complete, the store will employ 250 full- and part-time workers. When the entire site is developed, Live Oak officials forecast it will deliver $5.1 million in economic impact a year. The City of Live Oak provided an incentive package valued at $27 million – $1 million upfront when Ikea opens for business, and another $26 million in sales and property tax rebates over nine years.

“When we go out looking for land, we prioritize locations that are highly visible and easily accessible to all major highways,” said Charles Coker, U.S. real estate and development manager for Ikea. “That’s exactly what we found right here at I-35 and 1604, right here in the City of Live Oak.”

Since plans for the store were announced last year, Ikea has closed on the land, hired a general contractor, and began clearing and grading the property. But the vision and some of the basic infrastructure needed to support such a development began more than 20 years ago.

“I cannot speak highly enough of the foresight and intelligence of both the council members who are here today as well as the council members from the past,” said Scott Wayman, Live Oak’s city manager, who recalled a time when the Boysville children’s home occupied the site from 1953-83 as well as a trailer park that hosted a traveling circus in the winter. Wayman showed off an elephant tie-down salvaged from the property during construction.

In bringing Ikea to Live Oak, Wayman said that the City has worked with the Texas Department of Transportation to install new traffic signals, through-intersections, dedicated lanes, and other traffic enhancements to ensure the impact of the development will not adversely affect traffic in the growing area. The new Ikea store will have parking for 1,000 cars.

The resident population of Live Oak, one of several suburbs northeast of San Antonio, including Schertz and Universal City, is 16,000. But its daily population swells to 100,000 as workers, students, and others travel into the city.

Ikea was founded in Sweden in 1943 by Invar Kamprad, who was 17 at the time and named the company for the first initials of his name, I and K, plus the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd, and his hometown, Agunnaryd. Kamprad died less than two months ago at age 91 in Småland, Sweden.

Jesper Brodin, Ikea’s CEO and president, stated at the time: “His greatest contributions to Ikea are his vision – to create a better everyday life for the many people, the Ikea culture and the long-term approach to business.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.