Innovate ABQ taking shape as city’s creative hub

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Kayla Root / NM News Port

Two years ago, the idea that a corner of downtown Albuquerque would be home to a business incubator, research hub and new housing aimed at entrepreneurs and innovators was just that: a thought.

Today, that idea is becoming reality.

Innovate ABQ was founded in 2013 to create a community for research and commercial labs, science and technology companies, educational programs, business services, support services, and commercial and retail businesses.

The brains behind the collaboration is a board of directors whose members come from the University of New Mexico and Science and Technology Corporation, city and county government, and the business community.

“The University of Florida had an exemplary model,” said UNM President Robert Frank, “and because I knew people there from my days as a dean there, they offered to share what they knew with us.”

Frank and a group of city, county, business and university leaders, traveled to the University of Florida in 2012 to see what had been done. They became inspired to do something similar here in Albuquerque.

The Innovate ABQ Development Framework was created with the professional support of the design firm Perkins+Will and has projected the Innovate ABQ project to be completed in 10 years.

The Board of Directors has recently chosen the developer for the project, Signet Enterprises, an international firm located in Jacksonville, FL, and has signed a letter of intent. The group is looking at different possibilities including usage scenarios, financing options, and market demands. From there they will decide where to go.

The funding for the initial purchase of the property located in east downtown Albuquerque at Central Avenue and Broadway Boulevard is $8.3 million. It is made up of grants, investments, and company contributions.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration gave a $1.5 million grant that kicked off the project. There was also a donation from the Nusenda Credit Union of $3 million. The city of Albuquerque partnered with the project and made a $2 million investment. Additionally, the county also has a $1 million commitment to the project. Likewise, the UNM regents have set aside $800,000.

“It’ll be done in phases,” said Lisa Kuuttila, chief executive officer of STC.UNM.

“So we are working on phase one right now. It might be sooner, it might be longer, depending on how quickly things can be developed,” Kuuttila said. “If additional companies want to move in and have buildings constructed on different aspects of the site, things could move more quickly.”

Phase one revolves around the core site for the project, the former First Baptist Church at Central Avenue and Broadway Boulevard. The developers and board of directors all have an interest in retaining the sanctuary and hope to be able to utilize the space in some way, Kuuttila said.

“The long-term plan is to keep that building as an amenity to the site – but it’s still to be determined because it’s not going to necessarily generate revenue, so it’s difficult to find the funds to renovate it.”

Frank said he and many other members of the board have envisioned the church to have a great adaptive reuse potential as an event space that could help bring in even more activity.

Toward the end of this year, specific budgets will be drawn out for the four separate phases that will determine where and how the money will be spent, Kuuttila said.

The grand vision of Innovate ABQ is to create more jobs and prosperity by commercializing new technologies developed at the research universities. The project will also have public and private partnering with national labs, business organizations, civic leaders, the non-profit sector, national and global corporations, and public schools, and by providing entrepreneurial education and support.

“It is designed to be an economic ‘rainforest,’ so we want to create the environment that will allow innovation to thrive organically, not in a forced ‘framed’ way,” Frank said.
“What we ultimately expect is to have ways of connecting students, entrepreneurs and business leaders in a 24-7 community that stimulates innovation.”

Follow Kayla on Twitter at @kaylamroot.

Read more about the recent economic development summit where Innovate ABQ was discussed in the Daily Lobo.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]