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Thursday, December 18, 2014

UNM eyes $4.5M Aperture Center

Abandoned building would house part of Innovate ABQ

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@ArdeeTheJourno

UNM might be able to continue development of Innovate ABQ for much cheaper by next month.

Mesa del Sol developers have offered the Aperture Center, a 78,000-square-foot building in east Albuquerque, to UNM for $4.5 million as part of the University’s push for a two-site Albuquerque business and innovation hub.

UNM President Robert Frank said developers originally priced the building at $16.5 million, offering the University a $12 million discount.

Innovate ABQ officials have already approached UNM’s Board of Regents for a final approval to buy the building, Frank said. He said the regents will discuss the possibility of acquisition in their meeting in December.

Frank said Mesa del Sol developed the structure four years ago, but abandoned it because of lack of funds. He said that upon acquisition of the building, UNM plans to establish a business incubator there.

“As entrepreneurs are developing things and UNM has students and faculty who have ideas that they’re developing all the time, there’s no incubation space right now in Albuquerque,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to … build things. That building is sitting right there at a great price. We know we can rent it out immediately and we can make it a technology transfer center.”

The offered price for the building is economical, Frank said, considering that it is LEED certified, which means it has efficient insulation and meets other “green” building standards.

He said UNM plans to use private money to continue with development of the Aperture Center and of Innovate ABQ by leasing the building to private businesses.

“It’s a huge building. Some of the tenants will come in and tell us how they’re going to build in it,” he said. “We would work with them to fulfill their needs.”

A business incubation site in the area would also benefit students, Frank said.

“We think entrepreneurial education is important for UNM students because we want them to have the opportunity to learn about how we create opportunities,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to stimulate here.”

Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of UNM’s Science and Technology Corporation, said the space will attract international businesses as well as smaller local businesses. There will also be business events in the site, she said.

Because Innovate ABQ’s primary business hub site set at the intersection of Broadway Boulevard and Central Avenue is still in the middle of the planning process, the acquisition of the Aperture Center can provide immediate business incubation and training to local businesses. And they desperately need it, she said.

“There is a tremendous need for additional incubation space in Albuquerque,” she said. “UNM’s Science and Technology Park is at capacity, and other incubation space in the city is also full … Entrepreneurial training of many different types could be provided at Innovate ABQ at Mesa (del Sol) right away and streamed to other locations throughout the state.”

The Aperture Center would be a good investment by UNM, Kuuttila said.

Frank said developing Mesa del Sol might help keep tuition rates in the University from rising by bringing additional revenue sources to UNM.

“As Mesa del Sol grows, because UNM owns 14 percent of Mesa del Sol, it helps students’ tuition,” he said. “It’s not going to happen that quickly, but in five or 10 years, it will help students.”

Frank said that although it is uncertain whether the regents would surely approve the project at their meeting next month, he said he hopes they will.

“We don’t take things to the regents that would get voted down,” he said.