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UNM Negotiations with Parties to Purchase Innovate ABQ Site Nearing Completion – Regents Give Their Approval to Move Forward

Albuquerque, NM – June 17, 2014 Several months of negotiations by UNM with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, the state Environment Department and owners of the Central and Broadway site for the future home of Innovate ABQ have been successfully resolved. The agreement over issues concerning environmental contamination and indemnification led to UNM Regents’ giving final approval to UNM to complete the purchase of the property. To read more about the latest Innovate ABQ developments, see the June 13, 2014 articles by Kevin Robinson-Avila, “UNM to Purchase First Baptist Site Downtown,” from the Albuquerque Journal, and Karen Wentworth, “UNM Regents Authorize Property Acquisition for Innovate ABQ,” from UNM Newsroom, reprinted below.

UNM to purchase First Baptist site Downtown
By Kevin Robinson-Avila / Journal Staff Writer

The University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted in a closed-door session Friday to move forward with acquiring the First Baptist Church property Downtown for UNM’s Innovate ABQ initiative.

The university is not expected to close on the property for another few weeks, since final documents that will hold UNM harmless for environmental contamination at the site still must be signed.

But the regents now have authorized UNM’s Science and Technology Corp. to move ahead with the acquisition, following an agreement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. about indemnification for diesel pollution at the property, said Lisa Kuuttila, president of the STC and UNM’s chief economic development officer.

“It was approved, but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Kuuttila told the Journal. “The purchase agreements and other documents still need to be completed, so it could be about another month before we wrap it all up.”

UNM regents had authorized the STC last December to spend up to $7.3 million to buy the property, and to draw up a master plan and design guidelines for the seven-acre site at Broadway and Central. That’s where UNM and the city want to locate Innovate ABQ, a planned high-tech research and development zone that could help turn the city’s core into a bustling center for technology-based economic growth.

But regents conditioned the purchase of the property – valued at $6.65 million – on agreements with current owners, the Environment Department and BNSF that UNM not be held liable for environmental problems related to the site.

Those issues included potential groundwater and soil contamination from an old diesel refueling site for the railroad that runs by the property, some asbestos in tiles in buildings at the site and lead in some building paint.

UNM representatives have negotiated with all the parties since January on those issues, and most concerns about asbestos and lead were resolved early on, following surveys of the church-related structures, Kuuttila said.

But while the railroad agreed from the start to accept responsibility for its contamination, BNSF and UNM representatives have haggled for weeks over mutually acceptable levels of indemnification after a UNM-financed geological survey detected diesel pollution.

The survey, including a soil vapor analysis, revealed contamination in some places at depths of 19 and 30 feet, Kuuttila said. That led to back-and-forth with the railroad, because BNSF didn’t want an open checkbook for indemnification.

Nevertheless, both sides worked those issues out this month.

“The railroad agreed to take responsibility for the contamination they caused, and we agreed on a process for how that responsibility and indemnification will be determined,” Kuuttila said.

Those documents still must be signed. And the Environment Department still must issue a covenant, already approved, that guarantees the state will not sue the site’s new owners in the future for environmental problems.

But with the basic agreements in place, the STC went back to regents Friday to get a green light to finalize the property acquisition.

The regents’ approval generated enthusiastic responses from UNM President Bob Frank and Mayor Richard Berry, who have worked together to push Innovate ABQ forward.

“I look forward to working with our faculty, Mayor Berry, and our other partners as we take another step toward building the academic and entrepreneurial programs that will allow Innovate ABQ to serve our community,” Frank said in a statement. “This is an incredible opportunity for the university.”

Berry said the project will be “a great benefit for Downtown Albuquerque, as well as a great foundation for economic development in our city.”

Once UNM closes on the acquisition, it will move ahead with a master plan for the site. In December, regents approved use of $800,000 from the UNM Foundation to cover initial planning costs.

But the $6.65 million price tag for the property will be paid for with three outside donations, including $3 million from New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union, $2 million in city bond money and $1.5 million from the U.S. Commerce Department.

UNM Regents authorize property acquisition for Innovate ABQ
By Karen Wentworth, UNM Newsroom

Downtown property will be used as entrepreneurial center

The UNM Board of Regents authorized proceeding with the acquisition of the old First Baptist Church property at Broadway and Central in a special meeting. Purchase of the property will give the economic development project an actual physical home.

This is an important step in the process, but several things still must be completed. There must be a final environmental agreement and an agreement completed on how to handle future development of the property. The STC.UNM Board of Directors must approve the purchase before it can become final.

“We look forward to this very significant step being made in this process to improve our community,” UNM Board of Regents Vice President Conrad James said. “Innovate ABQ will also create new and exciting academic opportunities for our students.”

The purchase is a significant step for the project that UNM President Robert Frank has worked on for nearly two years.

“I look forward to working with our faculty, Mayor Berry, and our other partners as we take another step toward building the academic and entrepreneurial programs that will allow Innovate ABQ to serve our community,” Frank said. “This is an incredible opportunity for the University of New Mexico.”

“We are excited that the UNM Board of Regents approved the purchase of the First Baptist Church site for Innovate ABQ,” Albuquerque Mayor R.J. Berry added. “This will be a great benefit for downtown Albuquerque as well as a great foundation for economic development in our city.”

Innovate ABQ is a cooperative project that includes financial contributions from the City of Albuquerque, UNM, the County of Bernalillo and New Mexico Educators Federal Credit Union and STC.UNM.

“We’re excited to continue with this effort and congratulate Dr. Frank and his staff for completing their due diligence and receiving approval on the acquisition of Innovate ABQ,” NMEFCU President and CEO Terry Laudick said. “We look forward to what the future of the project will bring to our community.”

The seven-acre property already has a number of buildings. The first steps of a master planning process for the property is already in progress. The Innovate ABQ district is envisioned as a place where UNM students will live and work on entrepreneurial projects and where small businesses can be incubated and launch into the community.

See also Dan Mayfield’s June 13th article “UNM Regents Approve purchase of First Baptist Site for Innovate ABQ”.

Source: STC.UNM

For more information, contact:

Denise Bissell
(505) 272-7310