Cortana Mall, the beleaguered north Baton Rouge retail center that’s been dying on the vine for the past decade or so, was dealt its latest blow early this week when Sears announced it will close its anchor location.
The Sears announcement comes on the heels of recent closures by The Limited, Lenscrafters and Gordon Jewelers, and Daily Report confirmed this week that Foot Locker also plans on joining the exodus in March.
The spate of closures—which leaves the mall with just two anchor tenants, JCPenney and Dillard’s—has those left behind feeling anxious about their own futures.
“Everybody is really concerned,” Angela Stewart, who owns The Café in Cortana, told Daily Report earlier this week. “So far, I’ve really been blessed … but I know I’m going to feel the effects from everything happening. There are people who aren’t going to come to this mall if I’m the only one here.”
Still, the mall’s owner—Moonbeam Equities, a Las Vegas-based private equity firm that bought Cortana in 2013 for $6 million—may not see its bottom line affected by the recent closures, says Jonathan Walker of Maestri-Murrell Real Estate.
“Even with the vacancies they can still turn a profit without doing much because they got it so cheap,” Walker says.
Moonbeam Equities did not respond to a request for comment from Daily Report. However, the company has been looking to diversify its tenant mix and bring in more nontraditional tenants like current tenant Virginia College for the past year. As Senior Vice President Shawl Pryor Sr. told Daily Report last April, schools, business offices and medical offices are at the top of Moonbeam’s list of those who might take a chance on moving into Cortana.
Whatever the owners’ plans are, officials with the new Baton Rouge North Economic Development District—which encompasses the mall—are hoping city and state leaders will provide economic incentives to make it more attractive for businesses, tech companies and health care providers to relocate to Cortana and help reinvent it.
“This is where we can use the three Ps—a public-private partnership—to repurpose it,” says Rinaldi Jacobs, interim executive director of the district.