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Innovate ABQ prepares to launch construction

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Developers will break ground this summer on a six-story building at the Innovate ABQ research and development site Downtown, providing new, high-tech facilities for University of New Mexico programs plus five floors of student housing.

It’s the first planned building for Innovate ABQ at Central Avenue and Broadway, where UNM is working with the city, the county and private partners to create a seven-acre research and development district in the heart of Albuquerque.

The 160,000-square-foot building will open by August 2017 and cost $35 million. It will be located on the northeast corner of the seven acres, which UNM acquired in 2014 for Innovate ABQ. UNM and others began planning the project in 2013.

UNM has no upfront cost as the three-member development team charged with managing the first phase of Innovate ABQ’s site planning and construction – Signet Development of Ohio, New Mexico’s Goodman Realty Group and Dekker/Perich/Sabatini – will pay for the new building.

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The 160,000-square-foot building will open by August 2017 and cost $35 million. It will be located on the northeast corner of the seven acres, which UNM acquired in 2014 for the Innovate ABQ project that UNM and others began planning in 2013.

UNM will lease the facility back from the developers for 30 years and take responsibility for renting out student housing and maintaining and operating the facility, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM’s chief economic development officer and head of the Science and Technology Corp., the university’s technology transfer office.

The university will pay $1.8 million a year for the first five years. Payments will then climb to $2.175 million, followed by 1.75 percent annual increases thereafter. After 30 years, UNM will take ownership of the building.

The Innovate ABQ board approved the construction March 21, and the UNM Board of Regents signed off March 22, said UNM President Robert Frank during a public event at the site Monday afternoon to announce the project.

“This has been our vision from the start,” Frank said in a statement. “We’ve been working with our public and private partners to bring our students and researchers together with entrepreneurs and innovators in an inspired environment that can spur economic development and create jobs that benefit all of us.”

Terry Laudick, chairman of Innovate ABQ’s board of directors, left, Mayor Richard Berry, center, Bernalillo County Commissioner Lonnie Talbert and UNM President Bob Frank announce the development of offices and dormitories at Innovate ABQ

Terry Laudick, chairman of Innovate ABQ’s board of directors, left, Mayor Richard Berry, center, Bernalillo County Commissioner Lonnie Talbert and UNM President Bob Frank announce the development of offices and dormitories at Innovate ABQ. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The STC, which is now housed at UNM’s Science and Technology Park at University and César Chávez, will move into about 10,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the new building when it opens, Kuuttila said. The university’s new Innovation Academy, which offers students direct experience and real-world skills in entrepreneurship, will be housed next door to STC on the first floor.

The ground floor also will include a cafe and a branch of the Nusenda Credit Union, a partner in the Innovate ABQ project. The Nusenda branch will be managed with kiosks connected electronically to live tellers, Kuuttila said.

“We’re thrilled that after three-plus years of work we’ve finally gotten to this point,” Kuuttila said in an interview Monday. “We believe this first building will jump-start other projects, especially with the city building out its newly planned entertainment district across the street. All that is part of the Innovation District.”

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The STC and the Innovation Academy, which now has about 270 students enrolled, will share some common spaces in the new building, such as conference rooms and areas for events and seminars. The sharing of spaces is intended to facilitate interactions among students in the Academy and the students, staff and entrepreneurs connected to STC’s technology transfer activities.

“It’s great for our students to be connected with what the STC is doing to commercialize new technology,” said Innovation Academy director Robert DelCampo. “That allows for more collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources.”

The upper five floors of the building will be used for 155 two-bedroom, two-bath student apartments, where students in the Innovation Academy and other upper-level undergraduate and graduate students will live, work and play. The apartments will be limited to one person per bedroom, creating space for up to 310 students.

Mayor Richard Berry takes a selfie with UNM President Bob Frank after announcing development of the first new building at Innovate ABQ

Mayor Richard Berry takes a selfie with UNM President Bob Frank after announcing development of the first new building at Innovate ABQ. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“This extraordinary opportunity is a catalyst for our city, higher education and Downtown,” Mayor Richard Berry said. “This project will help the revitalization of Downtown Albuquerque by bringing UNM’s Innovation Academy and student housing to the Innovate ABQ site.”

Under the lease plan, UNM will not have to invest any money in the new building. “UNM will have a lease for the entire building,” Kuuttila said. “We don’t have to finance it, but we will manage it.”

The lease arrangement differs from UNM’s other off-campus student housing project at Lobo Village on César Chávez near Interstate 25. The private developer American Campus Communities built and opened that facility in 2011. It fully manages it, taking the risk for filling the apartments.

“This is different in that the university is working in partnership with developers on development and construction costs,” said UNM director of real estate Tom Neal. “In this case, UNM will be responsible for all operations and maintenance.”

But UNM expects little difficulty in filling the apartments, Kuuttila said.

“We know how to do that – we run a lot of student housing now – and the university feels quite comfortable with it,” Kuuttila said. “We feel it’s a good deal for UNM. It allows us to move forward with our vision for the Innovate ABQ site in a cost-efficient manner, which is especially important during this difficult budget time.”

Meanwhile, the Innovate ABQ developers and partners have decided to retain most of the First Baptist Church buildings that remain on the property, although they will tear down one section of those facilities. The rest will be remodeled into offices and other facilities, but there is no decision yet on when that work will begin.

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