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Innovate ABQ gets $1 million federal grant

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The old First Baptist Church at Central and Broadway in Downtown, next door to the Lobo Rainforest building, will be renovated with a $1 million federal grant for the next phase of Innovate ABQ. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Innovate ABQ received a major boost for its next phase Wednesday in the form of a $1 million federal grant, which will allow renovations at the old First Baptist Church building at Central and Broadway Downtown to begin in January.

The money, which comes from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, will help pay for construction of a science lab in the church building for startups that want to be part of the research and development hub that public and private partners are building at the old 7-acre church property.

Renovating the existing church structure is considered the second phase of Innovate ABQ, after the opening in August of the Lobo Rainforest building, a six-story facility built on the northeast side of the site. The Rainforest houses classrooms for the University of New Mexico Innovation Academy, dorms, office space for business startups, the UNM technology transfer agency, the Air Force Research Laboratory and others. It’s designed for maximum interaction among tenants to facilitate sharing of ideas and collaboration on projects.

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The existing, 71,000-square-foot church, on the southeast corner, will now be converted into a center for startups and entrepreneurial programs.

“It’s an exciting announcement from the EDA, because it shows the Commerce Department’s continuing confidence in Innovate Albuquerque,” said University of New Mexico Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.

Innovate ABQ is a collaborative effort among UNM, Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and various private entities to create an entrepreneurial hub Downtown.

The EDA previously awarded a $1.5 million grant to help UNM and its partners buy the First Baptist Church property in 2014.

“The new Innovate ABQ Inc. bioscience incubator will provide entrepreneurs and residents with a new opportunity to grow and develop their own businesses in their local community,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a prepared statement announcing the grant Wednesday.

The award requires matching funds, already secured from private parties by the Innovate ABQ board. That makes $2 million available to begin work at the church building, said Darin Sand, vice president of Goodman Realty.

“That money will allow us to move forward on building the core and shell of the new science lab,” Sand said.

Design work will begin this fall, and construction early next year.

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Full church renovation could cost about $15 million as developers convert the entire structure into a high-tech, mixed-use office complex for entrepreneurs, students, technology-transfer professionals and others. The building includes a five-story tower, a two-story wing, and an old sanctuary auditorium, all of which will be converted into shared meeting and conference rooms, offices, wet and dry labs for research and development and open workspaces.

Renovation will happen in phases as funds are raised, something EDA backing could boost by giving more confidence to other investors, Sand said.

Serial entrepreneur Stuart Rose, who founded the Bioscience Center in Uptown and the FatPipe incubator Downtown, will lease the new lab and related incubator, dubbed “Labs at Innovate.” He will sublease space for bioscience, photonics and material science startups.

“The grant allows us to get started, but we’ll need more money to finish this,” Rose said. “Still, this is a significant step forward, and very much appreciated.”

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