Potential Amazon center at Cortana Mall advances after Metro Council approves $30 million tax break
Entrance sign at Cortana Mall, which may be transformed into an Amazon distribution center, seen Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING
An endeavor to transform Cortana Mall into what is likely a new warehouse center for Amazon took another step Wednesday night when the East Baton Rouge Metro Council approved a 10-year tax abatement worth more than $30 million.
The council unanimously approved a tax break for Seefried Industrial Properties, a company with close ties to the massive online retailer, through a tax incentive program that's been rarely used in the parish. All signs indicate the tax cut will open the door wider for a new Amazon facility.
Seefried wants to demolish Cortana Mall and replace it with a five-level warehouse and office, which would have 2.9 million square feet of space. The Planning Commission on Monday approved a rezoning request from Seefried as part of the complex process of finishing the project.
According to paperwork filed with the Planning Commission, the site would have 1,251 parking spots, which might indicate how many employees will work at the facility.
Seefried is an Atlanta-based company that works closely with Amazon. It handled Amazon's purchase in April of a 34.3-acre site on Bethany Church’s Industriplex campus, which became the online merchant's South Baton Rouge Distribution Center.
And, in November, Seefried bought a 63.3-acre site off La. 415 in Port Allen and filed documents with the West Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court’s office outlining a lease agreement with Amazon.
The 10-year Payment In Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, grants mega nonmanufacturing projects an exemption on annual property tax payments to the city-parish as long as they meet certain thresholds for job creation and economic impact. But PILOT abatement doesn't include exemptions on property tax payments to the school system — unlike the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, which many companies like Exxon have pursued for their major projects.
"ITEP is used for manufacturers," said Donnie Miller, director of business development for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. "[PILOT] is another mechanism for economic development. In return for reductions in taxes, the PLIOT applicant commits to projects that would benefit the community that would otherwise not occur."
Through its agreement with the Capital Area Finance Authority, Seefried will avoid approximately $3.1 million annually in property tax payments to the city-parish — not to exceed about $35.4 million over the 10-year span of the abatement period.
Mark Drennen, CAFA's president and chief executive officer, said the school system's coffers will likely see a $400,000 bump in revenue in the first year from sales tax revenue related to construction of the new warehouse — and an additional $250,000 annually after that.
"We are abating some taxes, but after 10 years Amazon will still be there and they'll be paying the full share," Drennen said. "In this case, no one loses anything."