ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For years it fed the homeless, and now it will feed the spirit of aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators by providing a place to share ideas, learn about starting and growing businesses and participate in skill-building programs.
The city of Albuquerque plans to open a new “Epicenter” for entrepreneurs in March at the former Noon Day Ministries facility at the old First Baptist Church site at Broadway and Central Downtown. The University of New Mexico bought that property last July with financial assistance from the city, county, federal government and New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union (now Nusenda Credit Union) as ground zero for the planned Innovate ABQ high-tech research and development district.
UNM owns the seven-acre property, but it leased the two-story, 13,500-square-foot Noon Day Ministries building at zero cost to the city to allow it to launch the Epicenter as Innovate ABQ’s first on-site program, said Mayor Richard Berry during a public tour on Tuesday.
“It will be a community center that focuses on entrepreneurship, on economic mobility,” Berry said. “It’s a place for all comers to teach, learn and inspire entrepreneurship.”
Albuquerque Economic Development Director Gary Oppedahl said the Epicenter will provide a gathering spot for those who feel disenfranchised or left out of the entrepreneurial ecosystem to get involved and feel welcomed.
“We want all hipsters, hucksters and hackers to gather in one place to share and connect about what they’re doing,” Oppedahl said. “We want the Epicenter to have a beehive effect.”
Apart from offering a gathering place, the city and collaborating organizations will host a range of events and skills-building activities at the center, such as digital literacy and computer hacking workshops.
The city will also launch a new food vendor training program there for people who want to operate food trucks, stands or other such enterprises. The facility has a commercial kitchen on site that was, until recently, used by Noon Day Ministries to serve meals to homeless and low-income people.
“We want to teach entrepreneurs to safely and effectively run a food court,” Berry told the Journal.
The city could spend about $25,000 to renovate the facility before it opens in March, although city staffers are now assessing and evaluating it. The facility includes a large basketball court on the ground floor, and a string of offices on the second floor.
The local philanthropist group Cinco Amigos, in cooperation with the Albuquerque Community Foundation, raised $137,000 as a donation to equip the Epicenter with a Wifi network and desks, tables and chairs. The city will supply computers.
The Epicenter’s Innovate ABQ location may be temporary, as UNM is awaiting a master plan from the design firm Perkins & Will, due in March. The plan could call for tearing down that building, or renovating it for other purposes, but UNM decided to lease it to the city anyway for up to two years, said UNM Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.