Amazon officials to confirm plans for Cortana Mall site

Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Baton Rouge is expected to hear tomorrow for the first time from Amazon officials, who will at long last confirm their plans for redeveloping the former Cortana Mall site into a five-story, 3.5 million-square-foot regional fulfillment center.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has scheduled an 11 a.m. news conference for what it describes as a major economic development announcement.

BRAC officials decline to divulge specifics of the announcement in advance. But other sources familiar with the situation say the briefing will make official what has been discussed publicly for months by Amazon proxies but never by the e-retail giant itself.

BRAC and elected officials are expected to tout the economic development benefits of the planned facility, which will operate 24/7, cost some $300 million to develop, process some 500,000 small packages a day, and employ more than 3,000 mostly full-time workers—not including thousands of drivers, who will work for the company on a contract basis, or part-time seasonal workers.

Earlier this year, when the Metro Council was approving zoning changes needed to make way for the facility, Mayor Sharon Weston Broome called the project “a generational project” and an  “innovative public-private partnership” that would be a much needed boon in a disinvested area.

Around the same time, Amazon effectively outed itself, when it acquired the various properties comprising the former Cortana site for more than $23 million.

The announcement comes as online retail is booming but also as the nation is experiencing an unprecedented labor shortage. Amazon, in particular, has come under fire in markets around the country for creating low-wage jobs with few worker protections, difficult working conditions, and 12-hour shifts with few breaks.

At $15 an hour, Amazon’s hourly rate is considered minimum wage in some markets, though in Baton Rouge it’s well above the baseline and could encourage other employers to increase their hourly rates.

Daily Report first reported on Amazon’s plans for Cortana in mid-2019, when only the mall’s Dillard’s discount store remained in operation.

In the months that followed, Amazon’s real estate developer, Seefried Industrial Properties, negotiated deals to acquire the mall and its five anchor tenants, which was no small feat.

Earlier this month, Daily Report reported that Dillard’s is at odds with Louisiana Economic Development, claiming the state agency reneged on a promise of financial assistance it made to company officials last fall while trying to convince them to sell the discount store to make way for the Amazon project.

Dillard’s was the lone holdout among the former property owners and wanted $10 million for its property. It ultimately sold for $6.5 million.

LED has denied it made any promises, verbal or otherwise, of financial assistance.

Work crews are finalizing demolition and site prep work to make way for construction to begin on the fulfilment center later this summer. The facility is expected to take 18 months to complete.

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