The former Virginia College site at Cortana Mall is up for sale again after a deal fell through with a developer, who has ties to Amazon in the construction of fulfillment centers and warehouse facilities.
Developer Seefried Industrial Properties has contracted with Amazon in the past for fulfillment centers, and is already building a distribution center in South Baton Rouge. Amazon fulfillment centers are often 1 million square feet and support hundreds of jobs; distribution centers are smaller and are used in last-mile delivery to customers.
Several buyers were interested in the 90,000-square-foot Virginia College property, but two backed out when Seefried proposed buying all the mall properties, the owner of the Virginia College building said Tuesday.
"The (buyer) I ended up contracting with was going to buy the entire Cortana Mall, demo it and build a huge facility there," said Wilson LaFoe, owner of DL Investments LLC, which is based in Jackson, Mississippi. "The purchaser was very reasonable and offered me a fair price. They did an awful lot of work putting this together. They had the right to back out, and it cost them money."
LaFoe said the property was about 30 days from completing a sale when the buyer pulled back due to issues getting control of other parcels on the site.
"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. "I hope that this gets put back together. It could come back to life."
Amazon declined an interview and did not confirm an interest in Cortana Mall, citing company policy. It also has not commented on the distribution warehouse under construction by Seefried in the Industriplex development off Airline Highway. Amazon already operates a large tent-like warehouse on Airline near Interstate 12. Similar Amazon structures have been built around the country with the stipulation that they are temporary facilities operating for up to two years.
“We are constantly exploring new locations and weighing a variety of factors when deciding where to develop sites to best serve customers; however, we don’t provide information on our future roadmap," said Jen Crowcroft, spokesperson for Amazon.
The large anchor store buildings at Cortana are owned individually. Only a Dillard's clearance center is still operating among the anchor properties. The clearance center closed because of the coronavirus pandemic in late March but is expected to reopen on Wednesday. Dillard's declined comment about any real estate deals, citing company policy.
In September 2019, Moonbeam Leasing & Management, the Las Vegas-based company that bought the internal portion of Cortana and the vacant Mervyn’s anchor store in 2013 for $6.15 million, largely shut down the mall interior at the intersection of Airline and Florida Boulevard.
The Virginia College property owner said he thinks the same buyer for his property had previously bought Macy's.
State records and property sales documents don't connect Seefried Industrial Properties to the buyer, Cortana Place Acquisitions LLC, registered by New Orleans real estate attorney Scott Willis at Fishman Haygood. Willis could not be reached for comment on that sale.
The former 238,000-square-foot Macy's store at Cortana and a 13.3-acre tract was sold for $1.65 million in February to Cortana Place Acquisitions. The property had an asking price of $2.1 million.
Virginia College was first put up for sale in February 2019, several weeks after the school shuttered its operations. Before it was a college, the building housed a Steve & Barry's clothing store and originally was a Service Merchandise retail location.
The price at the time was listed as negotiable. The current asking price for the Virginia College property is $5.5 million, according to marketing materials.
Cortana Mall is inside an Enterprise Zone, which would offer economic incentives for new job creation as local leaders look to spur redevelopment at the site.