Daily Report has confirmed that plans are in the works to repurpose the soon-to-be-vacant Cortana Mall into a regional distribution and fulfillment center for Amazon.
Though details of the deal are unknown and may not yet be finalized, sources say plans call for using the 1-million-square-foot shopping mall to service the e-retail giant’s growing customer base in Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Economic Development are spearheading efforts to lure the company to the Baton Rouge site, according to sources. LED Secretary Don Pierson declines to confirm the deal, saying only: “For competitive reasons and to protect confidential company information, we can’t comment on current or potential prospects.”
Edwards’ declines, through a spokesperson, to comment, as do Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s office and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
Earlier this month, Cortana’s Nevada-based owners notified the handful of remaining tenants that they need to be out of the mall by mid-September. Tenants say they were not given a reason.
The firm has not returned multiple calls seeking comment.
But at least one real estate agent, Mathew Laborde of Elifin Realty, says he is aware Amazon representatives have reached out in recent months to owners of Cortana’s vacant anchor tenant spaces.
At the same time, the state has made no secret of its efforts to court Amazon. In late 2017, both New Orleans and Baton Rouge entered the crowded field of cities hoping to become home to Amazon’s HQ2, or second headquarters location, a deal that ultimately went to Virginia.
But one business leader, who has no firsthand knowledge of the deal afoot at Cortana, says participating in the HQ2 process was part of a larger strategy to ultimately land a distribution center in the state.
“From the very beginning, the whole thing Don (Pierson) did was brilliant,” says Mike Olivier, president of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development. “He said, publicly, ‘We won’t qualify for the headquarters but we will get our name out there so we will be in line for a fulfillment center down the line.’ It was brilliant.”
It’s also no secret that Amazon has been eyeing Baton Rouge as a site for a fulfillment center for a while. In 2017, Amazon representatives reached out to Howell Place owner Richard Preis, looking for 300 acres near the airport on which to build a large fulfillment center.
The deal didn’t work out because Preis didn’t have enough available land to sell, but he says based on what he knows about the company’s needs, locating at a repurposed Cortana would “fit like a glove.”
It’s not clear that a nearly 50-year-old shopping mall is ideally configured for an Amazon distribution and fulfillment center. But Cortana has several other advantages. Among them: it’s relatively close to the Baton Rouge Metro Airport—8 miles—and a straight shot down Airline Highway; it’s surrounded by acres of concrete that could accommodate large fleets of delivery vehicles, and it’s comparable in size with other, 1-million-square-foot regional fulfillment centers Amazon has recently constructed.
Currently, Amazon is operating locally out of a 21,000 square-foot temporary facility it opened last fall on an outparcel at Celtic Media Center. The company is currently nearly halfway through a two-year lease on the site.