Leisure-time destination projects were not among the many retail center credits in The Sembler Company's folder.

Sembler had specialized - and become notably successful - in developing neighborhood and community shopping centers. The St. Petersburg, Fla.-based company had a long association with Eckerd Drug Stores, Publix supermarkets, Target and Home Depot, but not with such entertainment venues as multi-screen movie theaters and Gameworks.

Why, then, would it link up with a developer whose track record included entertainment-focused centers whose tenants are a rainbow of restaurants and coffee houses, movie theaters and night clubs, along with carefully chosen clothing and accessories retailers?

There were several reasons. The Tampa development opportunity Columbus, Ohio-based Steiner + Associates presented to Sembler looked promising, exciting and civic-minded.

Centro Ybor will turn a part of the historic, under-utilized Ybor City section of Tampa into a vibrant entertainment center when it officially opens this October.

Steiner needed a solid partner to undertake the revitalization of the old cigar-making area that once housed important gathering spots for immigrants from several countries.

"We saw a need for a partner very early in the project," says Yaromir Steiner, president of Steiner + Associates. "We knew that Sembler Company was active in St. Petersburg, and that it was an established and respected company."

It was Sembler's local expertise that helped tip the scale. Its executives were familiar with Tampa-St. Pete. They would help guide the exciting project through the requisite meetings with government officials, the requests for proposals and the applications for permits.

Sembler was also in an excellent position to help put together financing for the proposed $45 million, 210,000 sq. ft. entertainment center, which would include a $5 million renovation of the historic Centro Espanol building, built in 1912.

At the time, Steiner's Florida experience focused on the Miami area. "We had done CocoWalk in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood, but we had not worked on Florida's west coast," he says.

There's a difference, he says, and local experts are critical.

For its part, if the Sembler team was hesitant about getting into an entertainment-based project, it didn't show, Steiner says.

"They have a sense of civic obligation," he says. And they likely were curious about developing an entertainment environment.

Ybor is, in and of itself, an attraction, Steiner says. "This is an old, well-known ethnic neighborhood. Everyone knows about Ybor City."

A new Hilton hotel and a 400-unit apartment building are adding ballast to the area. Centro Ybor brings some attractive neighbors: the 20-screen Muvico Centro Ybor with stadium seating; the Improv Comedy Club for live entertainment; Gameworks; taverns; restaurants such as Cafe Mezzanotte and Big City Tavern; a Starbucks; national clothiers, Brainfood bookstore, and Camelot Records.

"Sembler was very helpful in organizing the financing for this project," Steiner says. "And mayors listen when they call," he adds.