Seismic news that the century-old B&M Baked Beans plant in Portland will close by the end of the year was met with muted community response while many await details about the Roux Institute graduate school and technology campus that is planned to replace it.

The five-story brick factory, which has made New England baked beans since the 1920s, is embedded in the fabric of the East Deering neighborhood, said Cheryl Ann Leeman.

A conceptual rendering of the planned Roux Institute campus on the B&M site in Portland, along with a restored coastline, public spaces and a new bike trail. Rendering courtesy of Tsoi Kobus Design and Stimson Landscape Architects

Leeman, 73, has lived on Savoy Street a stone’s throw from the factory for four decades. She recalls her neighbors who made their livings at the plant and the donations B&M has made to local parks and ball teams. News that it would close for good in just a few months was unexpected.

“It has come as a surprise to a lot of us – it was such a fixture in the neighborhood. It seemed like it would always be there,” said Leeman, who manages the East Deering Maine Neighborhood Association Facebook page. “I think there is no question that there is a lot of nostalgia.”

Now, Leeman and many others await more information about what will replace the bean factory. The Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Science, or IDEALS, a Falmouth nonprofit, finalized a purchase-and-sale agreement with B&M’s parent company for the 13.5-acre waterfront parcel Monday.

The nonprofit plans a years-long phased development of the space into a campus for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, a graduate school, research center and business accelerator. Plans include private development such as housing, parking, a hotel, restaurant and public parkland with waterfront cycling and walking trails.

Passing judgment on the proposal is hard without having more information, Leeman said, but her neighbors have raised questions about traffic and tax implications.

“It is a pretty huge development – on the other hand, people do have an open mind about potential benefits,” she said. “At this point, there are no details. It is hard to react when you don’t have details.”

Before anything else, IDEALS needs to secure a zoning change for the industrial area and obtain other permits and approvals, the organization said.

In an interview last week, Executive Director Charles Hewett said parts of the complex used by the nonprofit would not be subject to property tax, but that parts leased to private developers would be. The organization also is considering roadwork to expand vehicle access to the site, which is currently connected to the city by just one street.

ABSORBING THE NEWS

The proposal’s success could hinge on how much involvement citizens have in the development process, said Portland City Councilor Andrew Zarro, who represents the East Deering neighborhood.

“All of this comes down to implementation: How is this going to happen and how are we going to work together as a district, as a city, to make sure this is something that works for everyone and so people feel they are part of the conversation?” Zarro said.

News that B&M is closing and leaving town will take time to absorb, he added. Portland residents, Mainers and visitors have an emotional connection to the factory and its traditions, including rooftop lights put up during the holiday season every winter.

“This campus has been there for more than 100 years, it means a lot to a lot of people and change is hard,” Zarro said. “Especially when you see something go from manufacturing to the potential for a center of innovation, entrepreneurship, the future of technology. That juxtaposition is a lot, I think we can all agree. Seeing the landscape of the city change is not easy for a lot of people, myself included.”

For some, the change is a way to put Portland, and Maine, on track for future prosperity and progress. The Roux Institute, launched last year with a $100 million donation from Lewiston native David Roux, intends to educate and train a local workforce in advanced technology fields such as life science, data engineering and artificial intelligence. A focus on entrepreneurism, business development and partnerships with private sector companies are core components of its approach.

“The Roux Institute has already become interwoven with the fabric of our city, and I’m thrilled to learn they have found a location for their permanent campus,” Portland Mayor Kate Snyder said in a statement. “Having their own unique location will allow them to fully establish their presence, grow and attract students, business partners and entrepreneurs.”

Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce, said the organization has championed the Roux Institute mission from its launch and thinks it holds promise for the future of industry in Maine.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT KEY

“We understand that this initial announcement will be followed with more details and an expansive public engagement process through the planning board, and we look forward to being a part of the next steps to ensure that this site is something the entire Greater Portland community is invested in and excited about,” Hentzel said in a statement.

The planned changes on the property appeal to Deborah Napier, who lives in Portland’s Stroudwater neighborhood. Even though she remembers the factory’s scent of baking beans welcoming her family home after road trips, that nostalgia is not powerful enough for Napier to oppose the planned university campus.

“It really provides a very futuristic look – I think that is often what we lack in the city of Portland,” Napier said about the Roux Institute. “I think it will provide a much stronger economic position for the state. We have been losing our young people over the years due to lack of jobs. This plans for what is coming, what is going on currently, and prepares Maine to be a place for young people to stay and get jobs.”

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