Amazon hopes to start demolishing Cortana Mall by April 1 and wants to start building a 2.9 million-square-foot fulfillment center that will employ thousands on the property as soon as possible.
The goal is to have the fulfillment center open by August 2022, said Walter Monsour, a vice president with CSRS, the engineering firm representing Seefried Industrial Properties. Seefried is an Atlanta-based developer that works closely with Amazon.
“They want to have the center ready for their busy season,” he said.
The general contractor for the project hasn’t been selected yet, so it isn’t known how many jobs will be created by the construction of the center, Monsour said.
But the fulfillment center is expected to create “several thousand” jobs, he said. Two shifts will work daily, with employees coming in for 10.5 hours at a time.
It is expected that Amazon will hold job fairs locally to find workers for the fulfillment center.
The five-level warehouse and distribution center, being built at Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway, will be nearly twice the size as Cortana. There will be 1,251 parking spots at the facility.
The Cortana fulfillment center will handle small, sortable products. Robots will help employees pluck items from bins to fill online orders. “There will be the latest and greatest technology in this facility,” Monsour said.
The fulfillment centers need extra space because they carry inventory from the small businesses that sell goods through Amazon.
Seefried and Amazon also are currently building a 1.5 million-square-foot regional sortation center in Port Allen, which should be completed by the end of the year. The sortation centers get items from fulfillment centers and determine the best way to ship the products: either through the U.S. Postal Service or via Amazon’s own distribution network.
Currently, the south Louisiana market is being handled by a sortation center near Houston.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council easily approved plans Wednesday to rezone Cortana to allow for commercial warehousing, clearing the way for the fulfillment center. Mayor-President Sharon Weston Boome called the facility “a generational project."
The mall has largely been closed since September 2019. The only business left is a Dillard’s clearance center, set to close in April.
City and business leaders had worried about the impact of having such a large, empty space in the middle of Baton Rouge. Monsour said the impact of the Amazon facility will be felt not only in the area around Cortana, but stretching into north Baton Rouge.
“We’re very fortunate we were able to keep things moving along,” he said. Selling the Cortana site was difficult because it involved six different property owners — the mall and five anchor stores. If any one of those parties balked at the deal, it wouldn’t have been able to go through.