The physical heart of Innovate ABQ is a seven acre research and business incubation site at the northwest corner of Broadway and Central. Buildings left by the First Baptist Church remain on the property, and some may be repurposed as offices or meeting spaces, or as places to hold classes.

But the idea of Innovate ABQ extends far beyond the actual site and into the surrounding community. Over the last few months an extensive survey of the land, buildings and people in the vicinity of the property was undertaken by Perkins + Will, a consulting firm hired to help UNM understand how to approach this activity.

David Green, lead urban designer for the project, presented some initial possibilities to the UNM Board of Regents recently, but the real decisions about how to build or rebuild the area surrounding the site will be in the hands of the community.

This presentation shows some of the items considered by the company. Green said this is an initial examination of assets in the area. He emphasized the innovation district needs many more people with a connection to the area.

Green said planners will have to think about what it is like to walk, eat and work in the area. This district is about twice as large as other districts in the country that try to concentrate businesses and living spaces, but he said the grid system should make it easy to connect the elements.

He estimates Albuquerque can easily fit 400 companies into the innovation district that Perkins + Will examined. One of the big obstacles Green sees is Interstate 25 and the way it splits the district. He said there are ways to overcome the problem, but it means valuing pedestrian travel over vehicles, something that may be a new idea for Albuquerque drivers. 

For Green, one of the ways to make the project easier to approach is to think about how different, smaller districts can be created, each with its own emphasis and story. But it is now up to Albuquerque leaders, businesses and neighborhoods to write the script for each part of the district.

Perkins + Will looked at an area approximately a mile surrounding the property. He said, “Going forward, every decision will either make the innovation district better or worse.”

The Innovate ABQ board will make decisions about the site itself and will work with the city, county, neighborhoods and public and private developers to try to realize the dream of a physically dense, vibrant innovation district for researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

The UNM Board of Regents voted to expand the board to 11 positions and added Pat Vincent-Collawn, chair of PNM Resources to the board. Remaining board positions will be named at a later time.