Innovate ABQ plans next steps for 7-acre downtown science-tech hub

Albuquerque’s promised Innovation District has seen a handful of building projects and now five years into the development, some are wondering what’s next. 

The City of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico spent millions of dollars to buy the prime seven-acre downtown property at the corner of Broadway and Central that is now home to the “Innovate ABQ” project. 

John Freisinger is the executive director of Innovate ABQ.  “Three years ago, this was a blighted piece of property, this was partially a homeless encampment,” said Freisinger. 

While initially sparked by UNM former President Bob Frank, the public-private partnership, Innovate ABQ, is governed by a board of directors who oversee the project’s master plan. 

Fully-realized, “Innovate ABQ” is supposed to be a seven-acre campus full of both new and remodeled buildings lining Broadway and Central. The campus is envisioned as a place where science and tech entrepreneurs share working space to research, create and test ideas that could lead to new Albuquerque-grown businesses. 

“We’ve managed to re-energize this space and it’s actually a destination now for people,” said Freisinger of the buildings on site thus far. 

Since crews began work on the site, two main spaces have emerged.

A cornerstone of the project, the $35-million Lobo Rainforest building opened in August 2017. The six-floor building is home to 251 UNM students. The bottom floor of the building is home to offices for several national research labs, a coffee shop and a bank branch. 

Across the lot, CNM’s Fuse Makerspace is also open. The co-working shop is full of high-tech tools that are available for use for minimal cost.

“There is something going on here almost every day of the week,” said Freisinger, speaking of the Innovate site. 

While people live and work on the site, Innovate ABQ also hasn’t seen any major new construction in about two years. Despite the lull, Freisinger insists that the project is still alive and planning the next steps. 

“There’s a big demand here in Albuquerque for a leasable time within bioscience spaces, and these are like your high school chemistry labs,” said Freisinger. 

Those labs are being planned to go in one or two of the three old brick church buildings. 

However, crews first have to do environmental remediation work on the buildings to take out lead paint, remove asbestos-infused tiles and clean up pigeon droppings, which are said to be through much of the property, which has been abandoned for about a decade. 

“There’s a couple of things we just have to get sign-offs on to get the remediation working,” said Freisinger. 

He emphasizes that just because there’s no construction now doesn’t mean the Innovate project is dead. “We don’t just build for the sake of building, we have to make sure there’s a purpose,” said Freisinger. 

Freisinger says he’s hopeful that crews may be able to start remediation work in the old church buildings by late summer. They’re also hoping to get federal funds to help pay for the cost. 

KRQE News 13 also asked UNM about the occupancy rate for the student housing at Lobo Rainforest building. UNM says the rooms are 81 percent full, representing 251 students. The money students pay to live inside the building covers the cost of the multi-million dollar yearly lease that UNM pays for the use of the building.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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