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Innovate ABQ: Albuquerque, N.M.'s Innovation Center Breaks Ground

The $35 million facility will house the University of New Mexico’s tech-transfer office and Innovation Academy, along with startups and partners involved in building a bustling, high-tech business zone.

(TNS) -- Innovate ABQ will break ground next Tuesday on its first building in the planned technology research and development hub at Central and Broadway Downtown.

The $35 million, 160,000-square-foot facility will house the University of New Mexico’s tech-transfer office and Innovation Academy, along with startups and partners involved in collective efforts to build a bustling, high-tech business zone in the heart of Albuquerque. Students studying in entrepreneurial education programs and launching businesses will be housed in student apartments in the building’s five upper floors.

The six-story building will be on the northeast corner of the former First Baptist Church property, which UNM acquired for Innovate ABQ in 2014 for $6.5 million. It marks the first phase of development for the Downtown project, which includes the city, the county and private sector partners, said Lisa Kuuttila, UNM’s chief economic development officer and head of the Science and Technology Corp., UNM’s technology commercialization office.

For now, much of Innovate ABQ’s daily operations are being overseen by a new project manager the board hired in May, Daniel Dietz. The board has temporarily suspended its search for a CEO until it raises more funds.

“We’re expecting a big crowd on Tuesday,” Kuuttila said. “People seem generally excited to see the project coming to its first phase of fruition.”

The new building, scheduled to open in August 2017, combined with other plans for the site and surrounding areas, will forever change Albuquerque’s Downtown skyline, said Gary Oppedahl, head of the city’s economic development office.

“This will revitalize that whole area,” Oppedahl said. “It’s all coming to fruition right before our eyes.”

After Tuesday’s event, developers will tear down the north wing of an existing building on the south side of the site, Kuuttila said. That wing juts into part of where the new building is planned.

The rest of the old building could be retained or demolished in future development.

The new building’s ground floor will be entirely dedicated to entrepreneurial education and building new businesses.

STC staff and student interns will occupy the west side, along with startups working to commercialize university technology. It will also house Innovate New Mexico, which includes the state’s research universities and national labs, with a 2,000-square-foot space reserved for the Air Force Research Laboratory to open a tech-transfer office.

UNM’s Innovation Academy, which offers students direct experience and real-world skills in entrepreneurship, will sit on the east side. The Academy, with 280 students now and projections of 500 by December, will have meeting areas, classrooms and individual working spaces, plus a high-tech “maker’s space” and a state-of-the-art visualization room.

“The students will live upstairs in trendy apartments, get classroom instruction downstairs, work on new technology and business ideas, and then walk next door to the STC to get help taking those things to market,” DelCampo said. “It’s a one-stop shop for all that,” said Academy director Robert DelCampo.

The ground floor’s central area will be shared open space for events and projects. There will also be a student-life area with study and lounge spaces, a cafe and a small branch of the Nusenda Credit Union.

The city-run Epicenter for community entrepreneurial events, which opened last year at another existing building on the site, has been temporarily moved to 119 Gold St. Downtown where the Art Bar used to be. The Epicenter will return to the Innovate ABQ site after the new building opens, although probably not in the building it previously occupied, which could eventually be torn down, Kuuttila said.

©2016 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.