A complicated deal to sell Cortana Mall to a developer that works closely with Amazon has been completed, setting the stage for a demolition and development of a five-level warehouse that's nearly twice the size of the near-vacant mall.
Wilson LaFoe, a Jackson, Mississippi, developer who owned the former Virginia College space in the mall, said the deal closed Wednesday. LaFoe did not know the sale price for the entire property.
As of Thursday afternoon, documents detailing Seefried Industrial Properties’ purchase of the former shopping center had not been filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court’s office. The deal, which has been in the works for several years, is one of the biggest transactions in Baton Rouge since 2013, when the former Advocate site downtown was sold to become an IBM software development center and apartment tower.
Seefried, which works closely with Amazon, has filed documents with the city-parish Planning Commission that call for demolishing the mall and replacing it with a single five-level warehouse and office. The warehouse would have 2.9 million square feet of space. There would be 1,251 parking spots at the facility, a hint at the number of people to be employed.
LaFoe credited the Cortana deal to Ty Gose, an agent with NAI/Latter & Blum who represents Seefried locally, along with Michael Cashio, and Lance Ginn of Beau Box Commercial Properties, who represented him. Gose approached LaFoe about 2½ years ago about selling the property to Seefried.
“They were incredibly professional in keeping 10 or 12 big cats in order,” LaFoe said, referring to the different entities that owned various parts of Cortana. “They did a yeoman’s task of taking a blighted area that would have sat there for 20 years and turning it into a generational changing development.”
Turning Cortana into an Amazon fulfillment center has been described as a “seminal project” for Baton Rouge by Walter Monsour, a vice president with CSRS, the engineering firm representing Seefried. The shopping center, which was the major retailer in the city for years before the Mall of Louisiana was built, has largely been shut down since September 2019. The only tenant that remains is a Dillard’s clearance center, which is set to close in April.
The Metro Council is set to vote on a rezoning of the Cortana site at a special meeting Wednesday. That action was originally set to happen Feb. 24, but it was delayed two weeks after officials said the mall needed to be under the ownership of the entity requesting the rezoning. At that time, Cortana had several owners, including former anchor tenants of the retail center, and Moonbeam Capital Investments, which owns the interior of the mall and the former Mervyn’s space.
Donnie Miller, director of business development for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, told the Metro Council the project is “still alive” and moving in the right direction. “There were delays on the transaction of closing,” he had said.
In the past few months, Amazon has made several moves across south Louisiana to open two fulfillment centers and one delivery station in metro Baton Rouge and Lafayette, which will double its area operations. However, the online retailer doesn't appear to be done building out its south Louisiana distribution network.
Based on the combined populations of metro New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette, as many as six more local delivery stations could be added to three stations already operating in the area, along with the development of a regional sortation center, Marc Wulfraat, a logistics expert who tracks Amazon, has said. Amazon currently has two delivery stations in New Orleans, both in the Elmwood area, and one in Baton Rouge, recently built off Rieger Road. Those handle “last mile delivery” for Amazon.
The main feeders for Amazon are its fulfillment centers. One is under construction in Carencro, at the old Evangeline Downs site. It is designed to pick, pack and ship bulky items, such as rugs, patio furniture and outdoor equipment. That facility is set to open in about a year and will employ 500 people.
Wulfraat, president and founder of MWPVL, a supply chain, distribution and logistics consulting firm based in Montreal, has said he envisions the Cortana site as a fulfillment center that would handle small, sortable products, based on the size of the facility.
Delivery stations are fed by a regional sortation center. That’s where items gathered from Amazon fulfillment centers are shipped to. Employees at the sortation center determine if it would be best to send an item through the U.S. Postal Service or if Amazon’s own distribution network should handle delivery.
Amazon has signed a lease with Seefried in Port Allen, where the developer bought a 63.3-acre site off La. 415. Its use has not been announced as to whether it might be a delivery station or potentially a sortation center.