ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The ground floor of the new Lobo Rainforest in Downtown Albuquerque is now fully leased thanks to tenants like Sandia National Laboratories and General Atomics.
But the same cannot be said for the University of New Mexico student apartments on the building’s five other floors.
Residential occupancy sits at 30 percent, leaving UNM short of rental funds it expected to cover its Rainforest lease payments and prompting regents last month to approve $520,000 in reserves to meet this year’s $2.2 million obligation.
Administrators say they do not anticipate ongoing trouble filling the units at the Rainforest – a cornerstone of the Innovate ABQ site at Broadway and Central – and blame timing for this year’s high vacancy. The freshly built apartments opened just days before the fall semester, creating a marketing challenge.
Chris Vallejos, associate vice president of Institutional Support Services at UNM, said the school had aimed to “mimic” the marketplace and rent at least 90 percent of its units, but “we didn’t really have a product to show” prospective students.
The Lobo Rainforest boasts 155 two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments. It has 94 residents out of a possible 310.
Students pay $629 a month, compared with a more standard campus dormitory rate of $489. But Vallejos noted that Rainforest residents have their own bathrooms, and that each unit features a full kitchen and washer and dryer.
The university is hoping to recruit more residents from the pool of students taking classes at UNM’s on-site Innovation Academy, he said. The school is also interviewing Rainforest residents to see what, if anything, needs tweaking, because satisfied customers can help spread the word.
“The majority of them are liking it,” Vallejos said, noting that one area of concern has been construction along Central.
But with work wrapping up on the Albuquerque Rapid Transit line and new amenities coming to the area, “I think (the Rainforest is) just going to be very popular,” he said.
Rainforest resident Kyle Guin is happy with the building, deeming it “UNM’s nicest living facility.” The UNM junior is so enthusiastic about the building’s potential – especially as a venue for students to interact with the tech heavyweights downstairs – that he asked officials if he could assume the title of “student ambassador” for the Rainforest.
Guin said UNM this spring will collaborate with its commercial tenants to host student-oriented events to better showcase the building.
“I think 2018 we are going to have a ton of students (living) here,” Guin said. “It’s not because students didn’t want to live here; it was because there wasn’t awareness. They didn’t know it existed, and it just didn’t open in time.”