Building a rainforest in the desert sure sounds like a crazy idea, but officials at The University of New Mexico, and other stakeholders including the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo county and other private partners, hope it rains economic opportunity much like a rainforest provides moisture.
It’s called the Lobo Rainforest Building and the concept is two-fold in nature including an economic component and an academic component. The plan is for the two to go hand-in hand as components of economic growth. Innovate ABQ – is a concept designed to transform New Mexico’s economy, while the Innovate Academy represents its academic counterpart designed to transform higher education in a location where students can live, work and play to help drive that economic growth. It’s called innovative living at the Lobo Rainforest.
When finished, the $35 million, 160,000-square-foot facility being built at the site of the old First Baptist Church at Central and Broadway, will house both Innovate ABQ tenants as well as UNM’s Innovation Academy (IA) as well as other students who want to live off-campus in heart of downtown Albuquerque.
The Innovation Academy is UNM’s new academic program, which is an innovation in learning theory itself. It’s a new mindset for everyone with a nontraditional curriculum designed to inspire the beginning of the problem-solving ‘idea pipeline.’ The student component, which includes UNM’s Innovation Academy along with construction of new student-housing at the site, is coming along nicely and will be ready for occupancy in August.
“This is really going to be the epicenter of the Innovation Academy. Our program will be run out of this building. It will give us a lot of opportunities to work with our community partners as well as STC.UNM." – Innovation Academy Director Rob DelCampo
“The idea is that the University really drives innovation in the private sector with a lot of research coming out of the University including the technology that’s used in our everyday lives,” said UNM’s Innovation Academy Director Rob DelCampo. “Having students here to be able to firsthand touch, see, taste, and feel is something that’s very important and being able to collide with it. The whole idea of collisions and this rainforest concept of things being very thick and sometimes overgrown and symbiotic in nature is really the idea of having this live, work, play philosophy.”
On the other side of the coin, Innovate ABQ implements the applied outcomes of the ‘idea pipeline.’ The overarching goal of the two entities is to foster economic development by enabling tenants, including students and technology transfer programs operated by UNM to live, work and play alongside at the Lobo Rainforest Building in downtown Albuquerque. Other partners and stakeholders include the city of Albuquerque, the county and private partners – all working to create Innovate ABQ.
“STC.UNM has really been involved since the beginning for Innovate ABQ for this entire seven-acre project and specifically in developing this first building called the Lobo Rainforest,” said Lisa Kuuttila, STC.UNM CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer. “The Lobo Rainforest is a unique building because it encourages collaboration between students, entrepreneurs, staff and faculty who will all be at the site. We’ll have a lot of activity in this building once it’s fully engaged.”
The Innovate ABQ component is coming together with an interesting mix of tenants including STC.UNM, the University’s technology transfer and economic development arm, will have its staff here and venture representative on site to help facilitate new companies forming based on University of New Mexico technologies. Also announced recently, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) will also be a resident at the Lobo Rainforest building, specifically its tech engagement office.
The Innovation Academy will take up residency on the first floor, while the student-housing will occupy floors two through six. DelCampo says the IA program itself is going strong with nearly 600 students on board as the spring semester comes to an end. IA will have office and maker space so students can build new products and test out their ideas in an environment where they have plenty of support and mentoring.
“This is really going to be the epicenter of the Innovation Academy,” said DelCampo. “Our program will be run out of this building. It will give us a lot of opportunities to work with our community partners as well as STC.UNM. We’ll be hosting events down here regularly, some entrepreneurial boot camps, and classes and collaborations with CNM and our other partners in the area. This will be the place to be. Even if students are not living here they still have the opportunity to come down, take part and participate.”
For those students who want to live in the six-story Lobo Rainforest building, UNM has been accepting applications and reservations for over a month. The two-bedroom apartments, 605 sq. ft. each, include a full kitchen, living space, washer and dryer, and some incredibly scenic views of the city. There’s enough space for about 310 students overall.
“As residents of the rainforest, students can expect to live here, work here on their businesses and ideas, and courses taking place here, and then of course to play,” said DelCampo. “We’ll have programming that’s not only academic in nature but also interactive as well. This is the heart of the Innovate ABQ project as well so there will be a lot of restaurants and other entertainment venues available to students.”
“The Lobo Rainforest is really meant to anchor the site for Innovate ABQ,” said Kuuttila. "UNM was a leader in starting the Innovate ABQ project a few years ago and by backing this building and specifically bringing people from the University, the entrepreneurial community and our student population, we feel that’s going to stimulate this site for other buildings and other organizations that want to be close to the action. It’s so exciting to see all this coming together.”