ABQ Innovate incubator lands $1M grant from U.S.

By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer/Albuquerque Journal

The 105,000-square-foot First Baptist Church at Broadway and Central NE, now part of Innovate ABQ. Part of the church building will be renovated for a new business incubator for biotechnology and other startups. (Courtesy of CB Richard Ellis)


Renovations at the old First Baptist Church building at Central and Broadway Downtown could begin in January, thanks to a $1 million federal grant to help move the next phase of the Innovate ABQ project forward.

The money, which comes from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, will help pay for construction of a new science lab in the church building for startups that want to be part of the research and development hub that public and private partners are building at the old seven-acre church property.

Renovating the existing church structure is considered the second phase of Innovate ABQ, following the opening in August of the Lobo Rainforest building, a new, six-story facility built on the northeast side of the site.

The 71,000-square-foot church, located on the southeast corner, will be converted into a center for startups and entrepreneurial programs.

“It’s an exciting announcement from the EDA, because it shows the Commerce Department’s continuing confidence in Innovate Albuquerque,” said University of New Mexico Chief Economic Development Officer Lisa Kuuttila.

Innovate ABQ is a collaborative effort among the University of New Mexico, the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County and various private entities to create an entrepreneurial hub Downtown.

The EDA previously awarded a $1.5 million grant to help UNM and its partners buy the First Baptist Church property in 2014.

“The new Innovate ABQ Inc. bioscience incubator will provide entrepreneurs and residents with a new opportunity to grow and develop their own businesses in their local community,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a prepared statement announcing the grant Wednesday.

The award requires matching funds, already secured from a private party by the Innovate ABQ board. That makes $2 million available to begin work at the church building, said Darin Sand, vice president at Goodman Realty.

“That money will allow us to move forward on building the core and shell of the new science lab,” Sand said.

Design work will begin this fall, and construction early next year.

Full church renovation could cost about $15 million as developers convert the entire structure into a high-tech, mixed-use office complex for entrepreneurs, students, technology-transfer professionals and others. The building includes a five-story tower, a two-story wing, and an old sanctuary auditorium, which will be converted into shared meeting and conference rooms, offices, wet and dry labs for research and development and open work spaces.

Renovation will happen in phases as funds are raised, something EDA backing could boost by giving more confidence to other investors, Sand said.

Serial entrepreneur Stuart Rose, who founded the Bioscience Center in Uptown and the FatPipe incubator Downtown, will lease the new lab and related incubator, dubbed “Labs at Innovate,”  which he will then sublease to bioscience, photonics and materials science startups.

“The grant allows us to get started, but we’ll need more money to finish this,” Rose said. “Still, this is a significant step forward, and very much appreciated.

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