John Freisinger describes it as the “first half of the first phase.”
“The idea is that we are introducing students with ideas and helping them pursue those ideas,” Freisinger says of the new Lobo Rainforest student residence hall on Innovate ABQ’s site which is seeing more than 100 Navajo students moving into the 159,000 square foot structure.
“I think the most significant thing about all of this, and maybe this is sort of a New Mexico point of view, is the intentionality toward diversity on our campus,” says Freisinger, who last September was named as the new president and executive director of Innovate ABQ.
“This represents a real reaching out to what I would call the overlooked or traditionally underserved communities,” Freisinger continues, of the Navajo presence at Innovate ABQ.
“And this is what we want to see,” he adds, “access for everyone, and attention paid to those populations which might be referred to as ‘at risk.’”
The completion of the six-story Lobo Rainforest structure was realized just as Freisinger was signing on with Innovate ABQ itself.
“I think my background alights with the project’s goals,” says Freisinger of the downtown Albuquerque space that has been several years in the making and is the result of an unprecedented partnership between the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, the University of New Mexico, and the Nusenda Credit Union.
In fact, the Navajo student move-in is the result of yet another partnership, this one between UNM and the Navajo Nation providing residence space in 59 two-bedroom apartment-style units.
The former president of Lockheed Martin’s Technology Ventures Corporation, Freisinger brings to Innovate ABQ a defined entrepreneurial spirit that he says goes well beyond simply managing a valuable and highly visible chunk of Albuquerque land.
“This project has to be imagined as more than just real estate,” says Freisinger. “It really has to be a place where entrepreneurs and small businesses and people with the entrepreneurial mindset come together and grow and thrive and attract companies that want to be around those types of people.”
“And that is really my background,” continues Freisinger, “trying to grow companies that have high growth potential and can attract capital and inspire imagination.”
“I think I bring a non-traditional viewpoint to the project, and that’s what Innovate ABQ is supposed to be about anyway,” says Freisinger.
Undoubtedly the most iconic structure on the Innovate ABQ site at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Central Avenue is the Old First Baptist Church, which was built in the early 1930s and whose congregation moved to another location in Albuquerque in 2009.
“The building itself is actually three buildings,” says Freisinger, who notes that the sanctuary portion of the complex is “exactly what you would think it would be, with a raised platform and immersion space, plus rows and rows of seating and a mezzanine.”
“It’s a big open space,” he says.
What to do with that space, and the building itself, has challenged Innovate ABQ officials almost from the start.
“There are some plans for the structure that haven’t been formalized yet,” says Freisinger, also noting that to the rear of the famous church is an office tower, and adjacent to that is what is known as the education wing of the complex.
“We want to develop each of those three entities, each of which will have a specific purpose,” Freisinger says.
The sanctuary itself could end up being a combination of community and retail space, while the education wing may serve as a “materials science, bioscience incubator space.”
“We want to keep the character of the sanctuary, and that is probably our most difficult part,” says Freisinger. “The church itself does not have a historical designation, but it is our intent to keep the integrity of that building, primarily because it is so iconic for Albuquerque.”
Contemplating the larger Innovate ABQ space, which was once, behind the church, an empty parking lot stretching to Tijeras Avenue NE, Freisinger says “As a community we have always held out the hope that we could imagine that space as something that is both reflective of our past, but also helps us create a vibrant future.”
While the work on the site has been visible to anyone driving by, Freisinger cautions that much remains to be done.
“There are four planned phases for this project,” he says. “We refer to where we are right now as Phase 1 B.”
By Garry Boulard
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