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Monday, December 22, 2014

Innovate ABQ plan moving ahead

UNM regents agree to purchase property

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Regent Bradley C. Hosmer walks to his seat during the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico meeting on Tuesday morning.

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Despite a delay with the regents’ vote on Innovate ABQ at a meeting in December, the project continues to progress.

At the first UNM Board of Regents meeting of this semester Tuesday, UNM Director of Real Estate Thomas Neale told the regents that project leaders and various city institutions are setting up an environmental agreement deal with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.

The deal would protect Innovate ABQ staff against any future liability regarding environmental problems at the prospective area downtown, Neale said.

“In the event that they excavate contaminants, the railroad will be responsible for incurring the costs of alleviating those contaminants,” he said.

Neale said the project would need “a two-pronged approach” with regard to the environmental process.

First, UNM and city and county government officials have been working on the agreement with the state Environment Department, he said. Also, UNM is conducting further environmental assessment of the downtown site of the First Baptist Church, which would eventually house the downtown branch of Innovate ABQ.

At the regents’ meeting in December, the regents approved to allot as much as $7.3 million to acquire the property. Funds will come from donations from non-campus entities.

According to a press release from UNM Today, “surveys of asbestos and the mechanical systems of the buildings are underway.”
Neale said UNM is working further with the department for a soil study of the area to ensure its safety.

“That would provide further assurance that there’s not anything sub-surface,” he said.

Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of STC.UNM, said the University is also working on a memorandum of agreement with city and county attorneys for the project. She said the lawyers will finish the review of the documents sometime next week.

“The legal documents are being processed,” she said. “We have a number of attorneys working on those documents with UNM legal.”

Kuuttila said her staff works with Perkins & Wills and Dekker/Perrich/Sabatini, the two developers that UNM had chosen for the site, on a weekly basis. She said they have also been meeting with the County Commission for additional funding for the project.

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah said University administrators have also been organizing the Innovation Academy, an entrepreneurship education program to be placed in the downtown part of Innovate ABQ.

“Academic Affairs is now poised to take the leadership in the academic part of Innovate ABQ,” he said. “We have a group of deans, faculty and others that are working on putting together a program that we have, teaching as well as research components.”

Neale said the environmental agreement might finish undergoing review by April, and might be presented to the regents’ meeting that month.

Kuuttila said the legal documents might be presented to the regents for approval next month or on April.