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Nearby businesses pleased with progress on new Amazon fulfillment center at site of shuttered mall

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BATON ROUGE - Progress on the $200 million Amazon fulfillment center at the site of the former Cortana Mall is undeniable. Just ask Raul Urdiales.

"From the time they tore Cortana down, piece by piece, to now, they don't waste any time," Urdiales, owner of El Rio Grande, said. "They just keep going."

Urrdiales can see the cranes and construction site from his restaurant across Airline Highway. He keeps up with progress, frequently driving by. To him, it seems like some parts of the facility pop up overnight.

"I watch it about 4 or 5 times a week," Urdiales said. "I see extra things being built. There are docks being built, walls being put up. It's just awesome watching this thing go up."

Even on the weekends, he'll see crews out, and since work started, he's seen those same workers add to his lunch rush.

"My dad's talked to a few of them, and he's trying to get more people to come over here," Urdiales said.

The facility, expected to be up and running by December 2022, is anticipated to bring a much-needed boost to the local economy and the area's revitalization effort.

As Baton Rouge leaders attempted to attract Amazon, the Capital Area Finance Authority offered the shipping giant tax incentives through the PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, program, in the form of a 10-year exemption on property taxes.

Amazon, though, expressed interest in still paying the portion of property taxes that would typically flow to the East Baton Rouge school system.

"It is very important to Amazon that our schools are fully funded," Amazon representative Jessica Breaux told school board members Thursday. "So, we do not want to accept an abatement of school taxes."

Thursday night, the school board approved a cooperative endeavor agreement with Amazon to receive an annual "school enhancement payment."

"Amazon is actually electing to pay to the school system what they would have not paid through the tax program, the PILOT program," said Gwynn Shamlin, general counsel for the school system. "We're actually receiving, directly, those monies versus them going through the collection process of tax collection with the sheriff."

Last February, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council approved the project's overall tax abatement plan, totaling $35 million over 10 years.

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