Rue Institute’s campus development plan slashed after neighborhood protest
A Portland permanent home developer for Northeastern University’s Roux Institute has significantly reduced the planned campus footprint in response to neighborhood concerns about project scale at the site of the former B&M Baked Beans factory.
It has reduced planned square footage by more than a quarter, lowered maximum building height by nearly a fifth and reduced planned hotel development, according to a report submitted to the city planning department this week by the Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, or IDIALS, the nonprofit that restores Ex-factory development.
Overall, the planned development — including space for classrooms and laboratories, a business incubator, apartments, public spaces, retail and more — would be reduced by 468,000 square feet, or about 27 percent of what was initially proposed.
The changes were proposed after hearing concerns from neighbors and residents about the size of the initial campus proposal, said Chuck Hewitt, CEO of IDIALS.
“The main concern we heard over and over was that it was too intense; in particular, the heights of the buildings and the traffic were a concern,” Hewitt said in an interview.
Changes to campus plans were first reported by Mainebiz. The Portland Planning Board is scheduled to discuss the proposal at a workshop on June 14. IDEALS required a property division change and institutional development overlay that would prepare it for phased development over the next two decades.
The Roux Institute was founded over two years ago with a $100 million donation from David Roux, a wealthy tech entrepreneur from Lewiston. Its founders envisioned a high-tech graduate school, a business accelerator and training pipeline to boost Maine’s workforce and economy.
Roe said he worked for two years to find the right academic partner for the institute. Of the 12 selections, Boston-based Northeastern chose due to its track record of entrepreneurship, collaboration with private industry, and experience creating a satellite campus. IDEALS was formed to site and develop a permanent campus.
Last year, IDEALS announced that it had bought B&M.
A 20-year development plan submitted to the city in February sought zoning adjustments that would allow it to build the tallest buildings in Portland. The proposal included 500 to 800 apartments and approximately 155,000 square feet of retail, dining and residential space.
The modified version shrinks housing to no more than 650 units, and commercial space to about 115,000 square feet, including a 90,000-square-foot hotel.
The heights of the proposed buildings have also been reduced. The initial plan called for a 210-foot-high building, which would have been the tallest building in the city. Two more buildings have been proposed, 175 feet by 165 feet.
Under the new plan, the tallest building in the center of the campus will be 175 feet, while the height of four others will be between 150 feet and 155 feet.
Hewitt said the new plan has been scaled back enough to address residents’ concerns, but still gives the Roe Institute the amenities it requires for the latest research, education and entrepreneurial space.
“We think we’ve made really important compromises that we hope will, at least, show people that we are listening to their concerns,” he said.
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