First Baptist Church
The First Baptist Church property at Central and Broadway NE.

The University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to move forward with the purchase of land for an innovation center in downtown Albuquerque. In a special meeting to discuss the Innovate ABQ proposal, the regents approved the purchase of the land under specific conditions that ensure that environmental concerns about the property are met.

The property purchase is a critical element in an economic development plan driven by UNM President Robert Frank and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry. The property on the northwest corner of Broadway and Central is currently owned by the First Baptist Church and has been partially vacant for several years.  The Innovate ABQ concept includes a business incubator and an Entrepreneur Academy with a dorm and learning space.

Funding to buy the property comes from several sources:

City of Albuquerque $2 million
Economic Development Association $1.5 million
New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union $3 million
UNM Foundation - Regents Endowment $800,000

If the endowment funds, $325,000 would be used toward a master plan and design guidelines for a research district. The total set aside for the project is $7.3 million dollars. 

The vote today was a formal commitment of the Board of Regents that money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration grant will be spent on the Innovate ABQ project with the purchase of the First Baptist Church Property, as started in the grant proposal request. 

UNM president Robert Frank has pushed hard for the commitment to Innovate Albuquerque.  He says the university must find a way to establish a physical space where students, faculty and staff can rent incubation space to start new businesses if the university and the community are to thrive.

Frank applauded the regents for taking this initial step toward a project he considers fundamental to the future of the university and the state. "Innovate ABQ creates a path for UNM to better serve our students, open up more opportunities for our faculty and generate more jobs.  We are thrilled to work with the mayor, the governor and the business community who have provided great support to us."

President Frank and Mayor Berry hope to create a research district in this older section of downtown Albuquerque.  The property is less than a mile west of UNM. Frank says he hopes the university may be able to expand westward.  He and Berry are recruiting members of Albuquerque’s business community to help develop both the church property and the area surrounding the property.

STC.UNM, a non-profit corporation wholly owned by the University’s Board of Regent’s to commercialize UNM intellectual property, will lead the Innovate ABQ effort under the direction of Lisa Kuuttila, UNM’s Chief Economic Development Officer.  At the direction of the regents, STC will hold title to the property.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to continue to foster the entrepreneurial community,” Kuuttila said. “We already have a great start and this project will help us expand it and make it even more substantial.”

The long-term goal for the university is to establish a support program for the UNM community and graduates so students or faculty who want to build a business will have nearby help and guidance they can call on during the critical start up years.

At the meeting to consider the purchase, regents heard wide spread support for the innovation initiative from representatives of the campus community, mixed with a bit of caution.

“Economic development is a part of our mission now,” Provost Chaouki Abdallah said. “We not only worry about what happens before our students come here, when they’re in middle or high school. But we must also worry about what happens when they leave here.  Otherwise we are educating them to go somewhere else.”

“There is risk in this,” commented Gene Henley, president of staff council. “However, the risk in doing nothing is worse.”  Faculty Senate President Richard Holder praised the partnership between the university, the city and the state, but said the main question from faculty will be how to keep the initiative from diluting the university’s primary mission of scholarship and learning.

Kate Krause, dean of the Honors College and the University College; Geraldine Forbes, dean of the School of Architecture and Planning; Doug Brown, dean of the Anderson School of Management, Amy Wohlert, director of the School of Public Administration, UNM Retiree Association President Bill Miller also voiced support for Innovate ABQ, as did student government representatives, Priscilla Poliana of GPSA and Isaac Romero of ASUNM.

“If the devil is in the details, in this case, I’d have to say the angel is in the vision,” Romero said.