A 20-year redevelopment plan anticipates a three-phase plan to build at least six new buildings on the former B&M Baked Beans property for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University. Courtesy of the Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences

Portland Planning Board members got their first look at the Roux Institute’s proposal for redeveloping the former B&M Baked Beans plant Tuesday, with members generally favoring parts of a rezoning plan but raising questions about other aspects.

Board members generally agreed with rezoning to allow for housing, offices, classrooms and more at the site. But some members questioned the long-term ownership of the site and whether a special institutional overlay designation for higher education and medical institutions was appropriate for a property owned by a nonprofit development company that includes substantial commercial development.

“What we are trying to get to now is how much of this is the Roux Institute and how much is it something else,” said board member Sean Murphy. Other board members questioned the scale and height of the development, its impact on traffic and other issues.

Tuesday’s meeting served as a broad overview of the nonprofit Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences’ plans for a wholesale redevelopment of the industrial parcel to make a permanent home for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, a graduate school and entrepreneurial center. The board plans more detailed workshops and meetings on the proposal in the months ahead.

Along with the school and business incubator, IDEALS’ proposal includes apartments, a hotel, offices, laboratories and restaurants that would be privately developed. IDEALS officers have said the multi-use components are crucial to achieve the institute’s goals of a dense, collaborative space for scholars, researchers and entrepreneurs.

To do that, IDEALS wants to change parcel zoning to a mixed-use area and install an institutional overlay. That would allow it to add laboratories and light industry as uses, raise building heights above what is otherwise allowed and have a 20-year phased development plan. It would also require extensive years-long community outreach.


IDEALS exists solely to develop a site for the Roux Institute on the former factory property the institute owns, said Mary Costigan, an attorney representing the organization. At some point in the future, the entire property will be transferred to Northeastern University.

David and Barbara Roux, the couple that started the Roux Institute with a $100 million donation two years ago, are also the principal funders of IDEALS. To make the vision of the institute financially feasible, it plans to lease substantial portions of the property to private developers for housing, a hotel and offices.

“All of this is designed to support and reinforce the mission of the Roux Institute; there is no other purpose for what we are trying to accomplish,” IDEALS Executive Director Chuck Hewett said. There is no set date to hand the property over to Northeastern, but IDEALS is legally bound to do so in the future, he added.

That makes the property unique, since other institutions that have institutional zones – Mercy Hospital, Maine Medical Center, University of New England and University of Southern Maine – owned the entirety of their properties before receiving a special zone. In this case, a nonprofit would own the property without a definitive timeline to transfer it, said board Vice Chairman Brandon Mazar.

“When do we get to that final point?” he said.

IDEALS has already changed its plans, agreeing to lower building heights to reduce the overall footprint of the development by more than 25 percent and limit the hotel development to 130 rooms. It has also committed to limiting traffic with public transit, pedestrian and cycling access, and to set aside space for a future dedicated highway off ramp if necessary.

At the meeting, some members of the public voiced support for the proposal in its entirety and urged the Planning Board to approve it. Others, including nearby neighbors, said they wanted the Roux Institute in their backyard, but remained concerned with the scale of the development and its commercial components.

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