Neighboring businesses are pleased with progress at the new Amazon fulfillment center on the site of a closed mall

BATON ROUGE — The progress of the $200 million Amazon fulfillment center on the site of the former Cortana Mall is undeniable. Ask Raul Urdiales.

“From the time they tore Cortana down, piece by piece, until now, they’ve wasted no time,” said Urdiales, owner of El Rio Grande. “They just keep going.”

Urrdiales can see the cranes and construction site from his restaurant across the Airline Highway. He tracks progress, frequently driving by. For him, it seems that some parts of the installation appear overnight.

“I watch it about 4 or 5 times a week,” Urdiales said. “I see additional things being built. There are docks being built, walls being built. It’s just awesome to see this thing going up.”

Even on weekends he sees crews going out and since starting work he has seen those same workers add to his lunch rush.

“My dad has talked to a few of them, and he’s trying to get more people here,” Urdiales said.

The facility, which is expected to be operational by December 2022, is expected to provide a much-needed boost to the local economy and the region’s revitalization effort.

As Baton Rouge executives tried to lure Amazon, the Capital Area Finance Authority offered the shipping giant tax incentives through the PILOT program, or payment in lieu of taxes, in the form of a waiver. 10 years on property taxes.

Amazon, however, has expressed an interest in continuing to pay the portion of property taxes that would typically go to the East Baton Rouge school system.

“It’s very important to Amazon that our schools are fully funded,” Amazon representative Jessica Breaux told school board members Thursday. “So we don’t want to accept a drop in school taxes.”

On Thursday night, the school board approved a cooperative agreement with Amazon to receive an annual “school improvement payment.”

“Amazon is actually choosing to pay the school system what it wouldn’t have paid through the tax program, the PILOT program,” said Gwynn Shamlin, general counsel for the school system. “We actually receive those funds directly from them through the process of collecting taxes with the sheriff.”

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

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