A company with ties to Amazon has filed a request to turn Cortana Mall into a 2.9-million-square foot distribution center.
Seefried Industrial Properties filed a site plan that will be taken up by the East Baton Rouge Parish Planning Commission at its Feb. 22 meeting. The site plan shows the mall being demolished and replaced by a single five-level warehouse and office. There would be 1,251 parking spots at the facility, a hint at the number of people to be employed.
Atlanta-based Seefried works closely with Amazon. In April it handled the purchase of a 34.3-acre site on Bethany Church’s Industriplex campus. That property is now home for Amazon’s South Baton Rouge Distribution Center, a 111,918-square-foot facility. In November, the company bought a 63.3-acre site off La. 415 in Port Allen and filed documents with the West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s office outlining a lease agreement it has with Amazon.
Amazon recently started work on a 1-million-square-foot fulfillment center near Carencro, at the site of the former Evangeline Downs. About 500 people are expected to work at the $100 million facility when it opens at the end of the year. It’s the first fulfillment center in the state and will be used to pick, pack and ship bulky items such as patio furniture, outdoor equipment and rugs.
There has been talk for a couple of years about Amazon taking over the Cortana site. The biggest obstacle to the deal has been all of the different property owners. The anchor stores at the mall all have different owners, as does the interior of the shopping center.
A Dillard's clearance center was the only anchor property still operating. The clearance store had closed temporarily in March due to the coronavirus pandemic but reopened in May. A company spokesperson did not respond Friday to requests for comment. A call to the Baton Rouge store was answered by an automated message about a store closing clearance sale ending on Saturday.
Seefried had been putting together a deal to buy all of the mall, but one fell through in 2020. Wilson LeFoe, who owns the former Virginia College space, told The Advocate last year a deal was about 30 days from closing before it fell through.
"They said they couldn't get a couple other property owners to come to an agreement on a reasonable price. It would have been an incredible opportunity for Cortana. They would have had 1,000 good-paying jobs in the area," he said in May.
LeFoe declined to comment Friday on the news about Seefried going before the Planning Commission, citing a nondisclosure agreement.
Cortana Mall basically shut down in 2019 after more than 40 years in business.
In August 2019, Moonbeam Leasing & Management, which manages Cortana, told the handful of remaining tenants they needed to leave by September. Over the past few years, most of the mall’s tenants had moved out, including anchor tenants Macy’s, Sears, J.C. Penney and Virginia College. The shopping center banned walkers, closed all but one entrance and put up barricades to restrict people to one wing of the property.
Cortana had been open since August 1976 and was the place to shop in Baton Rouge for years until the Mall of Louisiana, which opened in 1997, eventually wrested away the title.
Amazon has been gobbling up failed malls across the Midwest in recent years and turning them into massive fulfillment centers, which use robots to fetch items. The fulfillment centers need extra space because they carry inventory from small businesses that sell goods through Amazon. Also, abandoned malls are near densely packed population centers, meaning they’re close to tens of thousands of Amazon customers who are ordering items online for two-day delivery.
Amazon typically builds two types of buildings in markets where it seeks to offer faster shipping to customers. One is a fulfillment center and the other is a distribution center, also known as a delivery station. Fulfillment centers feed to regional sort centers and then delivery stations.
Fulfillment centers are typically 1 million-square-foot or more warehouses with hundreds of employees; some have robotic assistance for workers to fulfill online orders. There are more than 175 Amazon fulfillment centers across the world, according to its website.
In the past three years, 13.8 million square feet of retail space has been converted to 15.5 million square feet of industrial space, including vacant shopping malls razed to make room for new warehouses, according to a July report by the commercial real estate firm CBRE Group Inc.