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Following Virginia College departure, what’s next for Cortana Mall?

Monday’s announcement that Virginia College will close its Cortana Mall campus next year marks the latest in series of departures at the embattled north Baton Rouge mall since 2016.

The for-profit college follows the lead of former Cortana anchor tenants Macy’s, Sears and J.C. Penney, all of which have packed up and left over the past two years.

The latest departure, however, deals a particularly heavy blow to Cortana.

Virginia College, which opened in the space in 2010, had been heralded as the kind of non-retail tenant that could potentially save the mall by local real estate experts. Eight years later, the idea hasn’t panned out.

“We have had insufficient enrollment in that market for some time,” says Virginia College spokeswoman Diane Worthington of the Cortana location.

It’s unclear what the future holds for the 42-year-old mall going forward, as Virginia College’s closure will leave Cortana with only one remaining anchor: a Dillard’s clearance store, which only occupies one of two floors.

Requests for comment from Cortana’s owners, Las Vegas-based Moonbeam Equities, were not returned by this afternoon’s deadline. The company put the property on the market last year for $4 million. Agents at Beau Box Commercial Real Estate, the brokers for the listing, also have not returned calls for comment.

Local commercial broker Mark Hebert—who in February suggested bulldozing the decaying mall and building a soccer stadium—says he suspects the Cortana location for Virginia College was “functionally obsolete” for the school, meaning it was too big, requiring a lot of maintenance and high costs.

“That’s what I see as to why Virginia College said, ‘Hey, it’s time to let go of this real estate,’” Hebert says. “It’s functionally obsolete, just like the whole Cortana Mall is functionally obsolete. There’s not a use for that entire mall. That’s happening all around the country.”

Hebert began talks with officials and Cortana owners earlier this year about turning the property into a soccer stadium and events venue, but he says those talks have not gone anywhere since—although the idea could still be on the table.

The problem with Cortana, he says, is that the anchor tenants would have to all be bought out to undo agreements that limit their use to traditional retail. Those agreements have been waived in the past for tenants like Virginia College. But for the entire property to be demolished and repurposed, all tenant owners would have to agree to it.

“A universal group or individual has to be willing to buy out every contract and do away with all agreements and start over,” Hebert says.

The group or individual could replace the mall with a soccer venue, a mega church, an entertainment center or even a new location for the Baton Rouge zoo—which also has been proposed by local architect Buddy Ragland.

“That mall sits on 100 acres,” Hebert says. “It’s an incredible piece of property. I hope for the city’s sake we come up with a use for it.”

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