While there’s been a lot of discussion about the future of the beleaguered Cortana Mall, real estate broker Mark Hebert is actively trying to do something about it.
In recent weeks, Hebert has begun shopping around an idea to create a public-private partnership with the state to redevelop the site of the aging retail center into a soccer stadium that could also be used as a venue for concerts and other outdoor events.
Hebert met with Louisiana Economic Development officials earlier this month, and is planning also to meet with Cortana’s owners, Moonbeam Equities, which has the 50-year-old mall property on the market for $4 million. He says both parties are intrigued by the idea, though it’s still in its infancy.
“I am very serious about this,” he says. “I just feel the property is never going to be cheaper than it is now.”
Hebert is basing his idea for the future of the Cortana site off of the experience of Houston, which in the late 2000s entered into a P3 between the city, county and the private sector to redevelop a large tract of industrial land in a rundown area east of the city’s downtown, now called EaDO, into the BBVA Compass Stadium.
The facility, which opened in 2012, is now home to the Major League Soccer team Houston Dynamo, a women’s soccer team, and several college football and soccer clubs. In the years since, it has also served as a critical catalyst in the redevelopment of what is becoming a trendy, growing area.
Hebert believes the same thing could happen at the Cortana site, which includes the 1-million-square-foot mall, five anchor tenant stores, a massive parking lot and a ring of retail stores surrounding it. Hebert believes it would be easy to entice all of the owners to sell.
“Everybody in the circle wants to sell,” he says.
As communities across the country grapple with what to do with aging, struggling malls like Cortana, they are increasingly redeveloping the land, which already has its infrastructure built out, into mixed-use properties. Why not the same thing at Cortana, Hebert asks.
One challenge will be coming up with the money. In the case of Houston, the city put up $35 million, the Houston Dynamo put up $60 million and the county government also kicked in several million to help pay for the land.
Baton Rouge doesn’t have a major league soccer team, or a minor league team for that matter, and state and local governments, unlike those in Texas, are always near broke.
A long shot? Perhaps. But Hebert believes it’s time for Baton Rouge to start thinking outside of the box about Cortana.
“Why can’t it work here?” he says. “We could have some sort of professional soccer, university soccer, outdoor concerts and events. There could be lots of uses.”