Nonprofit unveils long-term plan to turn B&M property into high-tech campus
A 20-year redevelopment plan for the B&M Baked Beans factory in Portland, submitted to city planners on Monday, would ultimately convert the property into a dense and bustling technology hub.
The nonprofit Institute for Computational Engineering and Life Sciences, or IDEALS, wants to rezone the factory property in northeast Portland into a special zoning designated for hospital complexes and universities. The new zoning would concern the headquarters of Northeastern University’s Roux Institute, a high-tech graduate school and research center.
Zoning would give developers more flexibility in building design and allow them to come up with a long-term development plan to put together the essential elements of the project, said IDEALS executive director Chuck Hewett.
“The Institutional Overlay Zone we are officially applying for provides us with the opportunity to work with the city and neighborhood to shape the destiny of campus,” Hewett said.
But it also locks IDEALS into a long-term public process that includes neighborhood outreach, regular reporting to city planners, and the design and construction standards set out in its plan.
The property could be redeveloped without going through the institutional overlay process, but IDEALS chose to use it to guide the project, said Portland Planning Director Christine Grimando.
“I think … they like the framework that he builds in certain expectations of neighborhood relations,” Grimando said. “They know there’s going to be a long relationship to build here, and they feel like it’s a good tool to do that.”
THE SIZE WORRIES THE NEIGHBORS
The plan submitted Monday outlines a 20-year process to build classrooms, offices and apartments in what could rival Maine’s tallest buildings, centered around public lawns and the waterfront. A hotel, a restaurant and other amenities are included, primarily for those visiting the campus for business and research.
“This is a zoning request – we’re not offering a site plan yet,” Hewett said. “But in addition to us officially entering the city process, we are also putting our plans and ideas for the site out in the public for everyone to see. We are hungry for this public input and eager to share our story and our goals.
Some neighbors are also eager for details on a plan that will reshape an important corner of the city. Allison Brown, who lives on Lennox Street just north of the development site, said residents were growing increasingly concerned about the likely impacts of massive IDEALS plans. The new development would occur on a 13-acre parcel nestled between Casco Bay and Interstate 295.
“Nobody’s really against what they’re doing, but they want to be able to think about what it’s going to do to us,” Brown said.
She and others formed East Deering Neighbors for Responsible Development to address potential issues such as increased traffic, intrusive buildings and other potential consequences of redevelopment.
“I think people are really concerned about the scale of the plan and to a large extent the impact of traffic on the neighborhood,” Brown said. “There has to be an impact – I don’t know what they are going to plan to alleviate this problem.”
The Roux Institute was launched in 2020 with a $100 million gift from Maine native David Roux. The institute aims to train an advanced workforce in Maine and attract international talent to work in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and data visualization, as well as in life sciences. and medical research.
The development plan filed Monday calls for a three-phase plan to construct at least six new buildings on the property. The buildings will surround the current red-brick baked bean factory which is expected to be converted into a business incubator.
Over the next five years, construction would include Institut Roux’s main building, the incubator, up to 250 apartments for graduate students and faculty, and up to 125,000 square feet of retail space. In the medium term, in about 10 years, developers would build laboratories, classrooms and offices, hundreds of additional apartments and additional commercial space.
State-of-the-art design techniques and construction materials would be used in the development, IDEALS promised. This includes sustainability measures such as renewable energy and high performance building envelopes. The institute would be built above the 100-year flood zone to compensate for rising ocean waters and severe weather, the application says.
“We want to establish a national model of resilience and environmental standards,” Hewett said.
The project would be partly funded by philanthropy, but IDEALS plans to offer long-term land leases to private developers for the residential and commercial parts.
LIKELY IMPACTS ON TRAFFIC
The developers want to increase the building heights allowed on the plot to fit their plan. Proposed heights range from approximately 75 feet around the former B&M factory to over 200 feet for a towering residential complex. Raising the heights is necessary to preserve the planned public green spaces on the property, said Sam Reiche, chief operating officer of IDEALS.
“We need to create what feels like a complete venue – this will include open space, a public pier, bike paths that connect to the site – these are discussions we have with the city and the state,” Reiche said. . “The hope is that we (will) have a real destination here that welcomes people.”
The application notes the likely impacts of the site on traffic in the surrounding area. Sherwood Street, a short two-lane street, is the only road connecting the property to neighboring neighborhoods across I-295. Most traffic would pass through an already busy intersection at Washington Avenue and Veranda Street.
According to the application, having accommodations, a hotel and restaurants on the site would reduce vehicle travel. A subsidized transit pass, accessibility for bikes and pedestrians, and limits on parking spaces would further reduce reliance on single-occupant vehicles, he adds.
Even with measures to reduce traffic, vehicle travel will increase as the site attracts thousands of resident students, faculty, visitors and staff. The plan suggests widening streets in the area to accommodate increased traffic.
“Vehicle traffic on campus will be heavily concentrated on certain streets and intersections immediately surrounding the site,” IDEALS said in its proposal. “Targeted road improvements at these locations can increase capacity and prevent excessive traffic congestion.”
These measures may be necessary if the Roux Institute grows as its project progresses. Since its opening in 2020, the institute has graduated 1,000 people, mostly employees of partner companies trained in tailor-made courses.
Roux aims to have more than 2,000 graduate students and a faculty of up to 200 within five years, chief administrator Chris Mallett said. He intends to help incubate 30-50 tech startups each year and build new partnerships with Maine businesses, schools, and public institutions to build the campus into an economic engine that can benefit the whole community. state, he said.
“We’re really walking on the integration of learning and entrepreneurship to bring university business into a real-world context,” Mallett said. “This campus offers to integrate these functions in a very unique and innovative way.”
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