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UNM regents mull $13 million for Innovate ABQ

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KOCH: Will be looking at project’s future costs

KOCH: Will be looking at project’s future costs

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents will review proposals to invest $13 million in UNM’s Innovate ABQ initiative at a special meeting Dec. 6.

The Friday meeting will provide regents with their first opportunity to fully vet the project, which aims to establish a high-tech research and development center in Downtown Albuquerque that could turn the city’s core into a bustling center for technology-based economic growth.

“It will be a very important meeting, because there’s a lot of interest in Innovate ABQ,” said Board of Regents Vice President Jamie Koch. “This will be the first time the regents have all the financials and other information that they need to make a decision.”

UNM President Bob Frank unveiled the Downtown project, which is modeled on a similar technology jobs “ecosystem” around the University of Florida in Gainsville. Mayor Richard Berry and city business leaders are strong supporters.

University administrators want to spend $13 million to acquire two separate properties as part of the Innovate ABQ initiative, according to a UNM financial breakdown obtained by the Journal.

That includes:

  • $6.65 million to buy the seven-acre First Baptist Church site in Downtown Albuquerque – at Central and Broadway – where Innovate ABQ would be headquartered.
  • $500,000 to demolish the church that’s now located at the Downtown property, plus $390,000 to master-plan the entire site and compile guidelines and information databases to pave the way for development.
  • $4.5 million to purchase the 78,000-square-foot Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol south of the city, where Innovate ABQ would get started immediately while the Downtown property is developed.

UNM’s Science and Technology Corp. (STC) would also locate its operations at the Aperture Center, alongside technology-transfer staff from other research universities and national laboratories, turning that building into a one-stop shop for investors to acquire intellectual property to commercialize new technologies.

  • $1 million for tenant improvements to the Aperture Center building.

To date, UNM has received promises for $6.5 million in outside funding for Innovate ABQ. That includes $2 million in bond money from the city of Albuquerque that voters approved in October, a $3 million donation from New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union and a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which the EDA officially announced Wednesday.

Those funds would all be used to acquire the First Baptist Church site. UNM has secured a purchase option on that property, valid through Dec. 31. The site has a $7.5 million asking price, but by law the university can only pay the plot’s appraised value of $6.6 million.

All remaining funds for buying the Aperture Center, plus related building improvements and site planning, would come from the UNM Foundation, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM chief economic development officer and head of the STC.

Regents did review some real estate issues related to Innovate ABQ during a closed session Nov. 12. In addition, the Lobo Development Corp.’s board of directors discussed the project proposals last week, then forwarded them without recommendation to the regents’ Finance and Facilities Committee for review.

But Board of Regents President Jack Fortner decided to turn the Dec. 6 Finance and Facilities meeting into a special meeting of the full board to allow all regents to begin vetting the project.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity to ask questions at the committee level before it moves on to the full board,” Fortner told the Journal. “That’s because we want to have enough time to get a really good grasp of the Innovate ABQ proposals and fully evaluate them. After that, if we’re ready to make a decision, then it goes on to the full Board of Regents meeting the following Tuesday.”

University officials will provide an in-depth briefing of project issues at the meeting.

“It’s an opportunity for regents to ask questions, review quotes on the properties and go into as much detail as they want,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “This is the first time they’ll have a chance to look at everything and ask whatever tough questions they have.”

Apart from property acquisition and financials, regents will also review proposed legal structures for Innovate ABQ, plus plans to bring private investors into the project.

The STC will create its own single-member limited liability company to oversee technology transfer through Innovate ABQ.

But it proposes to form a nonprofit corporation to administer the Innovate ABQ Downtown site together with public- and private-sector partners.

“That would be a separate corporation with joint ownership of the Downtown site,” Kuuttila said.

The university expects to attract private developers to build out the Downtown property in phases. Eventually, that would include research laboratories, office buildings, residential housing for students and entrepreneurs, parking and retail businesses.

“Once we’ve secured the site and developed the master plan, we’ll then reach out to private developers,” Kuuttila said. “A number of New Mexico and out-of-state developers have already approached us expressing strong interest.”

Fortner praised the project’s goal of using public money to leverage private investment.

“That’s really what spending public money should be about – to inspire private development – and that’s the whole idea of Innovate ABQ,” Fortner said. “From the university perspective, if we go forward at this point, there’s not much risk, because the idea is to go out and seek private money to invest in it.”

Koch said he’ll approach the project with an open mind.

“I want to see all the financials and where the money will come from,” he said. “It’s a long-term obligation once we start it, so we’ll need to look at future costs as well.”

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