The sound of hammers and construction boots could fill the old First Baptist Church building at Central and Broadway Downtown before year’s end.
The 71,000-square-foot facility is next up in efforts to build out the Innovate ABQ research and development hub that public and private partners are working to establish in the city’s core.
The Innovate ABQ board signed a new master development agreement in May with Goodman Realty Group to begin actively designing and marketing more sections of the old seven-acre church property.
With construction now winding down on a new, six-story “Lobo Rainforest” building on the site’s northeast corner, Goodman is now focused on turning the existing church structure on the southeast corner into a center for startups and entrepreneurial programs.
“The master development agreement gives us rights to develop the entire seven-acre site,” said Goodman Realty Vice President of Development Darin Sand. “The next big project is the existing church sanctuary and office tower. That’s what we’re working on now.”
The facility has three sections: the church sanctuary at the corner of Broadway and Central, a five-story tower behind that, and a two-story west wing. All will be remodeled into a modern, high-tech office complex connected to students, entrepreneurs and others working to market new technologies at the Lobo Rainforest building.
“We envision a mixed-use facility with wet and dry labs for research and development, space for business incubator and accelerator programs, and executive offices with shared meeting rooms and facilities,” Sand said.
The sanctuary’s auditorium will become a flexible meeting area for things like startup pitch competitions and special events. Open work spaces will dot the building. And the west wing will house a “food hall” with outdoor patios on the south and north sides.
Developers expect few problems recruiting tenants.
“Interest has just been tremendous,” Sand said.
Serial entrepreneur Stuart Rose, who founded the Bioscience Center in Uptown and the FatPipe incubator Downtown, wants to establish a new technology incubator at the site. Many nonprofits are interested in office space in the tower.
The big challenge now is to make rent affordable for cash-strapped startups. That’s something Rose, Goodman and the Innovate ABQ board hope to achieve with low-cost loans, grants and possibly federal tax breaks through the U.S. Treasury Department’s New Markets Tax Credit program.
“The national average for the type of incubator space we want is $45 per square foot,” Rose said. “We want to do this for $30 per square foot.”
Remodeling work could begin by late fall, said Innovate ABQ board President and Chair Terry Laudick.
“We’re out there actively marketing the space to get to design and remodeling stages,” Laudick said. “We already have letters of interest signed with a number of partners, and were pursuing many more.”