Amazon deal at Cortana stalled as buyer backs out of Virginia College purchase 

The owner of the former Virginia College building at Cortana Mall, which has been under contract to an undisclosed buyer since last November, put the 90,000 square-foot property back on the market for sale or lease Monday, after the buyer walked away from the deal.

Jackson, Mississippi-based businessman Wilson LaFoe, who has owned the building for more than a decade, says he was disappointed to learn in late April, just weeks before a scheduled closing, that the purchaser was terminating the contract because of an inability to come to terms with another property owner at the mall site for their anchor tenant space.

“I had nothing but good professional dealings with them. I know they spent a good deal of time trying to make it work,” LaFoe says. “But they called me and said they had to terminate the agreement because they were unable to successfully negotiate reasonable market pricing on other properties at the mall.”

Daily Report has previously reported that a real estate firm working on behalf of Amazon, Seefried Industrial Properties, has been trying to acquire the shuttered mall and its five former anchor tenants in order to redevelop the site as a regional fulfillment and distribution center for Amazon.

Earlier today, Daily Report reported that Dillard’s, one of the five anchors and the only one still operating a store at the site, is threatening to derail the whole deal. The retailer runs a clearance center at the site.

Dillard’s has declined to comment.

LaFoe could not disclose the identity of the purchaser he was working with, citing a confidentiality agreement. But he says, “I think everybody knows who it is,” adding that it is unfortunate the deal is on the ropes. 

“It was an incredible opportunity to revitalize that area and it is a shame for people who live in close proximity to Cortana.”

According to sources familiar with the situation, state and local economic development officials have been working with Amazon, through its proxy, for more than a year on the deal, which would be a huge economic development win for the Capital Region and create 1,000 new jobs in north Baton Rouge.

Amazon is developing regional distribution centers around the U.S. Louisiana, so far, doesn’t have any.

But the deal was always going to be difficult to piece together. Acquiring the site meant closing six different deals with the mall’s owner and the owners of the five individual anchor tenant buildings.

In February, the former Macy’s space was acquired by a mystery buyer. 

LaFoe says it is his understanding the Macy’s buyer is the same buyer he was dealing with.

Negotiating with the buyer was easy in LaFoe’s opinion. He says the group was fair, upfront and honored its commitments. 

LaFoe says he hopes the deal can be revived, though he’s listing his property again anyway. If state and local officials are able to corral the parties involved in the talks and broker some sort of agreement to save the project, he says he would be willing to work with the same buyer.

“I do hope it comes back,” he says. “It would be a great, great catalyst for that part of the city.”

Officials with Louisiana Economic Development, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the mayor’s office declined to comment. 

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