If you have traveled down Florida Boulevard near Oak Villa and Airline Highway you are likely familiar with the eyesore that has become of Cortana Mall. Most of the businesses are shut down. Landscaping is overgrown and resembles scenes from post apocalyptic movies. The only store that seems to be holding on is Dillard’s and they close in April. The place has been a ghost town for quite some time.
Recently there has been talk about Amazon turning this property into a distribution center. In fact, council has already voted to rezone this site. For those living in the area, this will be a pleasant face lift. The plan is to demolish the mall and build a 5 story warehouse. This project has the potential to create 1,000 jobs. There is also the possibility of attracting other businesses, such as restaurants, back to this once booming area.
While there are a lot of great things that may come with this project, there are some things to consider. Seefried Industrial Properties, the company looking to develop the Amazon distribution center, is asking for a 10 year property tax abatement. This leads to one question. Why should one of the richest companies in the world get a 35.4 million dollar tax break in an area with about a 20% poverty rate? Giving a major company a tax break may be the only way to breathe new life into a languishing part of Baton Rouge. This is a reflection of a systematic problem in Louisiana. Taxes are so high that the only way to compete is through exemptions. Will smaller businesses get the same relief or will they be left to cover the difference? Small businesses have been paying 100% taxes and many are only allowed to operate at 25% capacity. This goes before the Metro Council on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.
See agenda item below.
“A resolution approving an annual payment in lieu of tax to East Baton Rouge Parish in
an amount not to exceed the property tax payments of thirty-five million four
hundred sixty-one thousand six hundred twenty-six dollars ($35,461,626) in
accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding between the Capital Area Finance
Authority and Seefried Industrial Properties. By Mayor’s Office.”
There is also an agenda item for a similar deal with Exxon. You can find details outlining the Exxon deal attached to that agenda item. Oddly enough, there are very few details explaining the fiscal impact of the Seefried Industrial Properties deal. The memo simply states “Council members will be informed on all details of this project and resolution prior to February 10th, 2021. All details of this investment and payment in lieu of tax will be presented publicly.” Some Metro Council members are excited about the potential this deal would bring to the area.
District 4 Metro Councilman Aaron Moak made the following statement:
“Seefried Industrial Properties are in negotiations to purchase the property at Cortana. The land has not closed yet, but any project development at that site is welcomed to our parish. We hope to see a great development that will enhance and revitalize the area. With a new development at the Cortana location we hope to see an area wide redevelopment also of the surrounding places and create a strong and prosperous growth. One that will bring many jobs and new businesses to the area.”
The intention of those in favor is to revive a struggling area. However, small business owners are already barely surviving. For as much positive impact as there may be, there is a counter negative local business owners may face. Amazon can relocate at any given moment. Mom and pop shops usually stick it out until they have to close their doors for good. Maybe the metro council should consider finding ways to help local businesses thrive.
To watch livestream or view archived meetings visit https://www.brla.gov/1085/Live-Stream-Archived-Meetings
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