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Innovate ABQ church building to become startup incubator

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Work is well underway on a new, six-story home for UNM’s technology transfer program and Innovation Academy at Central and Broadway. The old First Baptist Church on the same property may soon be home to startup firms. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The old 71,000-square-foot First Baptist Church building at Central and Broadway Downtown could soon become a bustling home for new startup companies.

The church complex is part of the seven-acre property that the University of New Mexico purchased in 2014 to build the Innovate ABQ innovation hub that UNM, the city, the county and private partners are working to create in the heart of Albuquerque.

Developers broke ground in July on a new building at the site, a six-story, 160,000-square-foot facility on the northeast corner of the property. When that opens next August, it will house UNM’s technology transfer program and an Innovation Academy for students who will live on the upper floors and attend classes downstairs.

But the existing church complex on the southeast corner of the property could either be torn down to make way for another new building or upgraded into a renovated working space.

The Innovate ABQ board, however, has now chosen to modernize rather than demolish the building, said UNM President Robert Frank in a presentation to the university’s monthly Economic Development Forum Thursday morning.

“There’s tons of space for mixed use, including meeting and coming-together spaces,” Frank said. “We’re working now with local businesses to convert a lot of that into incubator space.”

Goodman Realty, which is one of three partners building the new facility already under construction on the northeast side of the property, is negotiating with serial entrepreneur Stuart Rose to create the new incubator.

Rose founded the Bioscience Center in Uptown for biotechnology startups and the FatPipe technology incubator Downtown. Now, he wants to establish 18 labs with 40 offices for startups at the Baptist Church building. The new center, tentatively dubbed “Labs on Central,” would include a range of high-tech business.

“We’re looking at more biotechnology startups and companies working in optics and photonics and materials science,” Rose said. “It would be open to almost any startup that needs lab space.”

The incubator could occupy nearly half of the church facility, which is divided into three sections. That includes the old church sanctuary at the corner of Broadway and Central, a five-story tower behind that and a two-story west wing.

Together, those sections total about 71,000 square feet.

Apart from the incubator, entrepreneurial support groups, educational programs, meeting and socializing spaces, and possibly a restaurant or brewery could occupy the rest of the facility.

Goodman and Rose are now negotiating costs for modernizing the building.

“We’re in an advanced stage of discussion,” Rose said. “The key is to get the cost low enough to be affordable to tenants.”

Once an agreement is reached, it could take a year to complete all renovations.

“Internal repairs to the building will take months, not years, and we can start getting companies in the incubator space as we go forward,” Frank said. “It could even be operational by as early as August 2017.”

 

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