The demolition of Cortana Mall started Monday, the first step in a process that will turn what was once Baton Rougeís premier shopping destination into a 2.9 million-square-foot fulfillment center.

Backhoes ripped through the entrances behind the former Mervyns store, taking out chunks of the shopping center. A fence had been put around most of the mall, preventing onlookers from getting too close.

Demolition is expected to go on through August/September, said Jonathan Stites, a senior vice president with Seefried Industrial Properties.

A general contractor has not been selected yet to build the fulfillment center, but Stites said Seefried is in talks with a company it has worked with in the past.

The goal is to have the fulfillment center open by August 2022, so it will be ready for the holiday shopping season.

The fulfillment center is expected to create several thousand jobs. Two shifts will work daily, with employees coming in for 10.5 hours at a time.

It is expected that the tenant will hold job fairs locally to find workers for the fulfillment center. The five-level warehouse and distribution center at Florida Boulevard and Airline Highway, will be nearly twice the size as Cortana. There will be 1,251 parking spots at the facility.

The Cortana fulfillment center will handle small, sortable products. Robots will help employees pluck items from bins to fill online orders.

The mall has largely been closed since September 2019. The only business left is a Dillardís clearance center, set to close in April.

Cortana Mall opened in 1976 and was the place to shop in Baton Rouge for more than two decades, until the Mall of Louisiana wrested away the title after it opened in 1997. Even after it had been eclipsed by the Mall of Louisiana, Cortana remained viable for years.

But about five years ago, the mall's anchor stores began to close as retailers under financial pressure began trimming underperforming locations. Macy's shut down in early 2016, followed by Sears and J.C. Penney a year later. Virginia College closed in late 2018. As those anchors shut down, smaller retailers followed suit. By the time Cortana closed to the public, it was virtually empty.

Media Contact: Timothy Boone / The Advocate
Posted on: Monday, March 22, 2021