A 20-year redevelopment plan for Portland’s B&M Baked Beans factory, submitted to city planners Monday, would ultimately convert the property into a dense, bustling technology hub.

The nonprofit Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, or IDEALS, wants to rezone the factory property in northeast Portland to special zoning designated for hospital complexes and universities. The new zoning would be for the headquarters of Roux Institute at Northeastern University, a high-tech graduate school and research center.

The zoning would allow developers more flexibility in building design and let them map out a long-term development plan to knit together essential parts of the project, said IDEALS Executive Director Chuck Hewett.

“The institutional overlay zone we are now formally applying for provides the opportunity for us to work with the city and the neighborhood to shape the destiny of the campus,” Hewett said.

But it also locks IDEALS into a long-term public process that includes neighborhood outreach, regular reporting to city planners, and design and construction standards laid out in its plan.

The property could be redeveloped without going though the institutional overlay process, but IDEALS opted to use it to guide the project, said Portland Director of Planning Christine Grimando.

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“I think … they like the framework that it builds in certain expectations of relationships with the neighborhood,” Grimando said. “They know there is going to be a long relationship to build here, and it strikes them that this is a good tool to do that.”

SIZE WORRIES NEIGHBORS

The plan submitted Monday maps out a 20-year process to construct classrooms, offices and apartments in what could rival Maine’s tallest buildings, centered around public lawns and waterfront. A hotel, restaurant and other amenities are included, primarily for those visiting the campus for business and research.

“This is a zoning request – we are not putting forward a site plan yet,” Hewett said. “But in addition to the fact that we are formally entering the city process, we are also putting our plans and ideas for the site in front of the public for all to see. We are hungry to have that public input and eager to share our story and our goals.”

Some neighbors are equally hungry for details about a plan that would reshape a prominent corner of the city. Allison Brown, who lives on Lennox Street just north of the development site, said there is growing concern among residents about the likely impacts of IDEALS’ massive plans. The new development would occur on a 13-acre parcel tucked between Casco Bay and Interstate 295.

“No one is really against what they are doing, but they want to be able to have consideration about what this is going to do to us,” Brown said.

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She and others formed East Deering Neighbors for Responsible Development to address possible issues such as increased traffic, intrusively tall buildings and other potential consequences of the redevelopment.

“I think people are definitely concerned about the scale of the plan and to a real extent the traffic impact on the neighborhood,” Brown said. “There has to be an impact – I don’t know what they are going to plan for to mitigate that problem.”

AMBITIOUS PLANS

The Roux Institute launched in 2020 with a $100 million donation from Maine native David Roux. The institute is intended to train a cutting-edge workforce in Maine and draw international talent to work in advanced technology such as artificial intelligence and data visualization, as well as in life sciences and medical research.

The development plan filed Monday anticipates a three-phase plan to build at least six new buildings on the property. The buildings will surround the present red brick baked beans factory planned for conversion to a business incubator.

Over the next five years, construction would include the Roux Institute’s main building, the incubator, up to 250 apartments for graduate students and professors, and up to 125,000 square feet of commercial space. In the medium term, about 10 years away, the developers would build laboratory, classroom and office space, hundreds more apartments and additional commercial space.

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Cutting-edge design techniques and construction materials would be used in the development, IDEALS has pledged. That includes sustainability measures such as renewable power and high-performance building envelopes. The institute would be built above the 100-year flood zone to compensate for rising ocean water and severe weather, the application states.

“We want to establish a national model for resilience and environmental standards,” Hewett said.

The project would be partly funded through philanthropy, but IDEALS plans to offer long-term ground leases to private developers for the housing and commercial portions.

TRAFFIC IMPACTS LIKELY

The developers want to raise allowed building heights on the parcel to accommodate their plan. Proposed heights range from about 75 feet around the former B&M factory to more than 200 feet for a towering residential complex. Raising heights is necessary to preserve the public greenspace planned on the property, said IDEALS Chief Operations Officer Sam Reiche.

“We need to create what feels like a complete place – this will include open space, a public pier, bike paths that connect to the site – those are discussions we have with the city and state,” Reiche said. “The hope is that we (will) have a real destination here that is welcoming to people.”

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The application notes likely traffic impacts the site would have in the nearby area. Sherwood Street, a small, two-lane street, is the only road connecting the property to nearby neighborhoods on the other side of I-295. Most traffic would pass through an already busy intersection at Washington Avenue and Veranda Street.

Having housing, a hotel and eateries on the site would reduce vehicle trips in and out, according to the application. A subsidized public transit pass, bicycle and pedestrian accessibility and limits on parking spaces would further reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicles, it adds.

Even with measures to reduce traffic, vehicle trips will increase as the site attracts thousands of resident students, professors, visitors and staff. The plan suggests widening streets in the area to compensate for added traffic.

“The campus’ vehicle traffic will be highly concentrated on certain streets and intersections immediately surrounding the site,” IDEALS said in its proposal. “Targeted roadway improvements at these locations can increase capacity and prevent excessive congestion.”

Those measures may be necessary if the Roux Institute grows as it projects. Since it opened in 2020, the institute has enrolled 1,000 people, mostly employees from partner companies instructed in custom courses.

Roux intends to have more than 2,000 graduate students and a faculty of up to 200 within five years, said chief administer Chris Mallett. It intends to help incubate 30 to 50 tech startups annually and build further partnerships with Maine companies, schools and public institutions to make the campus an economic engine that can benefit the whole state, he said.

“We really do walk the walk about integrating learning and entrepreneurship to bring the business of the university into a real-world context,” Mallett said. “This campus proposes to integrate those functions in very unique and innovative ways.”


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