Downtown Albuquerque at Central and Broadway and the Aperture Center at Mesa del Sol are emerging as two prime locations for new “innovation hubs” that aim to promote high-tech business development.
The University of New Mexico, the city and other potential public and private sector partners have been discussing the best places to build a proposed research district, known as “Innovate ABQ.”
No decisions have been made. But a design consultant hired by UNM has pinpointed the Downtown location as an ideal spot where technology startups, researchers and support businesses can come together to create a modern urban development zone that offers high-wage jobs, housing and a bustling retail and entertainment environment.
That site, however, would take time and significant resources to develop, making Mesa del Sol’s Aperture Center a complementary location where a business incubator could open immediately to help startups commercialize technologies from the state’s research institutions. Aperture is Mesa del Sol’s community center and shared space for businesses and scientific research.
Having two locations would mean building Innovate ABQ in two phases, each with different goals, UNM President Bob Frank
Activities at the Aperture Center would focus primarily on technology development and commercialization, while the Downtown site would target the broader goals of creating a high-tech economic development zone in the heart of Albuquerque.
“Mesa del Sol could be phase I and Downtown phase II,” Frank said. “But the Downtown development would be the real home run, because it provides all the things we need to hit the big goals of creating a central innovation hub and research district in cooperation with the city and other partners.”
The project reflects a new economic development strategy emerging nationally whereby universities work with public and private partners to build research districts, or innovation hubs near campus. The hubs can attract startup businesses looking to commercialize university technology, as well as established companies that want to locate near the university to gain access to its resources. The hubs also include housing, retail and entertainment businesses, creating an appealing, high-tech business environment that attracts young urban professionals as a place where they can “live, work and play.”The Innovate ABQ initiative has generated broad support from public officials, businesspeople and professionals. The Albuquerque City Council has approved $2 million in city bond funding to help finance it.
UNM is modeling Innovate ABQ on “Innovation Square,” a research district developed at the University of Florida at Gainesville. Perkins & Will, the design firm for Innovation Square, is now the design consultant for Innovate ABQ.
to UNM and community leaders after evaluating six sites.
Apart from Downtown and Mesa del Sol, locations included UNM land at Interstate 25 and Lomas Boulevard, Lomas immediately west of UNM Hospital, the university’s southeast corner at Central and Girard, and UNM’s Science and Technology Park south of campus.
the key elements needed to make a research district successful. It has land for development at the site, space available for businesses to expand in most directions surrounding the site, and is in close proximity to UNM and to the city’s urban center where retail, restaurants, entertainment and residential neighborhoods already exist.
Perkins & Will principal David Green presented recommendations on potential locations for Innovate ABQ on June 3 Green said the Downtown location was the most “natural fit” for Innovate ABQ because it includes
a more isolated environment.
complementary locations.””Apart from the urban district, there will always be people who want to live in more of a suburban place like Mesa del Sol, and there are companies that will prefer a more secure research environment away from Downtown,” Green said. “I can see both of those areas growing parallel to one another as
If UNM and Innovate ABQ partners support the Mesa del Sol option, UNM might consider purchasing the Aperture Center.
“One option is to acquire it outright, but that would be a heavy lift for us,” Frank said. “Another option is a lease agreement, or partner with another private party. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
UNM has an option to buy the First Baptist Church site, although that option ends in July, said
UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila. UNM is discussing that with the city and other potential partners in the project.
(buy) the First Baptist Church site is up in July, and we have to go through an approval process at UNM,” Kuuttila said. “Our partners need to review it all as well.””We’ll have to make decisions fairly soon, because our option to