"We made excellent progress on construction in the summer andfall, so we are thrilled, yet confident, the remaining constructionmilestones and interior build-up process will be complete byFebruary--much earlier than originally envisioned," said RichardCastanon, store manager of the future Ikea Charlotte, in a release."Now our primary goal is hiring and training the nearly 400 localhires joining the Ikea family before we open."

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The newest store is set to include 49 room settings, three modelhome interiors, a 350-seat café offering snacks and small mealsincluding Ikea's famous Swedish meatballs, a supervised children'splay area, baby care rooms and preferred parking. The value of theproject has not been disclosed.

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Opening in the midst of a recession does not have the furnitureretailer worried, says Joseph Roth, director of public affairs forIkea North America. "Expectations for the Charlotte location arejust as they are for any other," he tells GlobeSt.com. "We thinkCharlotte is a vibrant home furnishing market where people valuegood design and good function. And in uncertain economic times webelieve Ikea stands out because there is an emphasis on value."

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The 25-acre Ikea site, which includes 1,600 parking spaces, issurrounded by 175-acres to be developed by Charlotte-based CrescentResources LLC. The firm plans to build 400,000 square feet ofretail, up to 720 residential units and two hotels with up to 200rooms each on the site to be called Belgate. Ground site work hasalready begun, but vertical construction won't begin for anotheryear, says Carrie McNeil, sales and leasing associate withCrescent.

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