This conceptual rendering of the planned Roux Institute campus on the B&M Beans site in Portland shows the B&M building in the foreground with the Roux Institute facility behind it, housing with underground parking to the left, along with a restored coastline, public spaces and a new bike trail. Rendering courtesy of Tsoi Kobus Design and Stimson Landscape Architects

Plans to scale back redevelopment of the former B&M Baked Beans factory in Portland have not satisfied local critics concerned about the scale of the proposal for a new office, classroom, housing and commercial space.

The site was purchased this year by the nonprofit Initiative for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, or IDEALS, as a permanent home for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, a high-tech graduate school and business center. The group has applied for a zoning change and a special institutional overlay to allow a 20-year, phased development of towering buildings for offices and classrooms, apartments, eateries and hotel on the 13-acre property.

Steve Von Vogt says he and other neighbors want the Roux Institute to succeed, but they remain concerned about the size of the development and its likely impact on the surrounding East Deering neighborhood.

“Everyone in the neighborhood is very supportive of the Roux Institute, but we are not seeing the necessity of another hotel in this part of town,” Von Vogt said in an interview, adding that neighbors don’t understand why ancillary development would make up a larger share of the project than the institute itself.

Responding to local concerns, IDEALS scaled back its development plan. Amended proposals filed with the city this week reduced the maximum total footprint from 1.7 million square feet to about 1.3 million square feet, lowered building heights from a peak of 210 feet to 175 feet and limited hotel space to 130 rooms and eight stories.

IDEALS Executive Director Chuck Hewett, in an interview this week, said shrinking the overall project by more than 25 percent was a major concession to local concerns. However, he said the proposed hotel, housing, retail and other amenities were critical to the success of the collaborative, entrepreneurial education and technology hub envisioned at the site.


“We reduced it to the minimum level we thought we could to keep that critically important goal possible,” Hewett said. He didn’t respond Wednesday to a question about the lingering neighborhood concerns.


The Roux Institute was established more than two years ago with a $100 million donation from David Roux, a Lewiston native and wealthy technology entrepreneur. Its founders envisioned a high-tech graduate school, business accelerator and training pipeline to boost Maine’s workforce and economy.

Roux has said he worked for two years to find the right academic partner for the institute. Of 12 choices, he selected Boston-based Northeastern because of its track record for entrepreneurship, collaboration with private industry and experience creating satellite campuses. IDEALS was formed to site and develop a permanent campus.

Last year, IDEALS announced it had purchased the B&M site.

Despite the revised, smaller overall footprint, the development is still too big and will generate too much traffic, said Von Vogt, who represents a group called East Deering Neighbors for Responsible Development. The slimmed-down proposal is still larger in square footage than The Maine Mall in South Portland and will have four of the tallest buildings in Portland even after lowering their heights, he said.


Considering how much of the planned redevelopment is not for Roux Institute purposes but for affiliated, privately developed commercial space, Von Vogt said it’s an inappropriate choice for an institutional overlay, designed for expanding major institutions such as Maine Medical Center and the University of Southern Maine.

“This looks like a mixed-use commercial development with the Roux Institute as a tenant, which is fine, but let’s call it what it is,” he said.


IDEALS unveiled the slimmed-down development to residents and others at a public meeting last week. Changes were received fairly positively, although some worried about the amount of traffic it is expected to generate.

The developer has said it plans to keep traffic down through public transit, ride-sharing and other means, but the only way onto the site is Sherwood Street, a small, two-lane local road that could become a traffic bottleneck.

The Portland Planning Board will hold a workshop on the proposed zoning changes next Tuesday. At last week’s public meeting, District 4 City Councilor Andrew Zarro, who represents the East Deering neighborhood, commended IDEALS for amending its plans to accommodate neighborhood concerns. Still, Zarro noted that the proposal has yet to undergo the city’s review process to garner planning board and city council approval.

“This is a massive project for the city, and its impacts will reach far beyond the borders of District 4,” Zarro said. “I really appreciate the neighbors who have been working with me on voicing their concerns, and I appreciate you all for making adjustments on your plans based on that community feedback.”

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