Lisa Kuuttila, CEO of UNM’s Science and Technology Corporation, said that rather than acting as a final plan, the development framework approved on March 9 provides ideas to developers whose building proposals will be accepted in April.
“This is meant to be a living document,” she said. “We can give it to developers in April, and they are going to work within this framework. They are not held to specific ideas on what a building has to look like.”
Kuuttila said the idea of an innovation district in Albuquerque was conceived by members of STC, which is responsible for commercializing research that comes out of UNM. STC starts about eight to 10 new companies a year.
“We had so many startup companies getting going, but they were spreading out all over the city,” Kuuttila said. “We weren’t really forming a natural innovation district, and this framework is taking all of this to the next level.”
The framework, created by the design firm Perkins and Will, contains renderings of possible scenarios for the site, as well as other potential development sites along Central Avenue. Ultimately, the site is intended to act as a hub for commercial and economic development that will include a business incubator, laboratories, offices, specialized housing and ground-level retail.
“The plan is an idea of how the different structures can be oriented, how to attract a lot of foot traffic, and how to make the site a destination place,” said Robert DelCampo, director of the soon-to-be-launched Innovation Academy.
The plan includes a park area known as Copper Green, which will run along the proposed extensions of Copper Avenue and Union Square Street. One of the main challenges is how to create both the high-powered research hub central to STC’s goals and a walk-able, comfortable space for people to visit, DelCampo said.
“Proposed uses for the site balance the focused research and innovation development with supporting uses such as street-level retail and housing opportunities,” states the Innovate ABQ Development Framework Presentation.
Kuuttila said that having a high-density space that serves multiple functions is a way for Innovate ABQ to plan for the future.
“From a student perspective, the millennial generation often wants to work, live and play without getting in the car and driving a long way. So Innovate ABQ will have living opportunities close by and provide that community feel,” Kuuttila said.
Innovate ABQ would like to create student housing for students who will be part of the Innovation Academy, which is set to begin teaching courses in the fall, Kuuttila said.
The academy is being created as a gateway for students to gain entrepreneurial skills through experiential learning. DelCampo said that the Innovation Academy will work closely with the employees at Innovate ABQ to facilitate internships and encourage students to start their own businesses.
“The Innovation Academy was created to get that entrepreneurial spirit back into education,” he said. “You don’t have to pick between starting your own business and getting a degree; you can do both.”
While business startups are a major focus, DelCampo said that the academy is meant to incorporate students from all fields of study.
“The whole idea of Innovation Academy is that it cuts across all disciplines,” he said.
He said that while the academy will be an academic program that stands on its own, its early years will be focused on kick-starting the Innovate ABQ site.
Student work has been and will continue to be vital to the formation of Innovate ABQ, Kuuttila said. Much of the planning for the site has been done in collaboration with City Lab, part of UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning. In addition, one of STC’s civil engineering student interns is working on a needs assessment for the business incubator that will be located on the site.
“We’re always working with students,” Kuuttila said. “We see Innovate ABQ and the Innovation Academy as a way to really stimulate much more student entrepreneurship.”
STC and the Academy are currently holding a competition for students to pitch technology business ideas for a prize of $2,500.
Kuuttilla said the biggest challenge for Innovate ABQ so far was raising the funds to purchase the site, which was sold for $6.5 million in July. Raising operational funding to continue will also pose challenges, but she is optimistic due to the speed at which the project has been progressing, she said.
“I would say it’s going very quickly,” she said. “We should be getting results from developers by June or July, and hope to be issuing contracts by September. We’ll be breaking ground by the end of the year or the beginning of 2016.”
“We hope the site will be a magnet for other kinds of activity from many parts of the country and the world,” she said.
Lena Guidi is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.