Albuquerque is doing the unheard of - growing a rainforest in the heart of a city. However, instead of seeds, the Lobo Rainforest Building will be a place for innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers to grow.
The Lobo Rainforest Building is the first sequence of Innovate ABQ, the goal being the creation of a one-stop shop approach for companies, entrepreneurs and investors seeking to evaluate new technology and create new business opportunities.
The integrated community would also include residential living space and amenities for the workers who benefit from new jobs created by this synergy, according to the Innovate ABQ website.
“The mission of the initiative is to strengthen the economic base in the mid-Rio Grande region and throughout the state of New Mexico by creating more knowledge-worker jobs for graduates from our educational institutions and experienced workers in our communities,” the site states.
Elizabeth Kuuttila, CEO of Supporting Technology Transfer and Catalyzing Economic Development (STC.UNM) said Innovate ABQ is a Research Park Act cooperation, owned by UNM, and is a public-private partnership.
The financing so far, including the purchase of the property, includes $2 million from the city, $1 million from the county, $3 million from Nusenda Credit Union, $1.5 million from the U.S. Economic Development Association and $700,000 from UNM via the Regents' Endowment Fund, Kuuttila said.
UNM Director of Real Estate Thomas Neale said the partner in Innovate ABQ is Signet Development, as the company will finance and construct the project upon completion. No capital dollars will be spent by UNM.
“The vision is to create an innovation district in Albuquerque, and the 7-acre site is the heart of the district,” Kuuttila said. “The Innovation Academy will benefit UNM students by allowing those students interested in innovation, creativity or entrepreneurship to have a curriculum to improve their skills in these areas.”
The idea for this project was inspired by a similar concept brought to life by the University of Florida that University President Bob Frank wanted to bring to Albuquerque.
“The genesis of this innovation district started from a trip made by President Frank, Mayor Berry and a few UNM regents to Innovation Square in Gainesville, Florida... a current attempt for the University to partner with a private sector to create an environment that would foster job creation,” Neale said.
He said the leaders returned from Florida looking to partner with private sectors to create Albuquerque’s own innovation district. Now under construction, the Lobo Rainforest Building is projected to be completed in about a year.
“This has been our vision from the start,” Frank said. “We’ve been working with our public and private partners to bring our students and researchers together with entrepreneurs and innovators in an inspired environment that can spur economic development and create jobs that benefit all of us.”
The University will lease the building off of Signet upon completion. Once finished, the Lobo Rainforest Building - located at Central Avenue and Broadway Boulevard - will be a six-story building with 158,830 square feet.
The occupants on the ground floor will be home to STC.UNM, UNM Innovation Academy and Air Force research labs.
The rest of the building will contain 155 two-bedroom, two-bath apartment units. The units will be leased to UNM students for $600-$650 a month per student.