Sam Reiche of IDEALS
Sam Reiche, chief operating officer of the Falmouth-based Initiative for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, at the former B&M Baked Beans property in Portland last week where IDEALS hopes to develop the Roux Institute campus. While the site presents some challenges, he said, IDEALS is focused on making the waterfront property open to the public in a way it never was before. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)
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The eye of the storm surrounding the proposed Roux Institute campus on Portland’s East Deering waterfront – the former B&M Baked Beans factory – was quite calm last week ahead of the first public meeting to be held on the 13.5-acre property.

Sam Reiche, chief operating officer of the Initiative for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, the Falmouth nonprofit that will develop the campus for Northeastern University, said while plans are still in the conceptual phase as they make their way through the Planning Board process, he hoped people concerned about the project would come out and take a look.

B&M Baked Beans plant
The only building that will remain at the former B&M Baked Beans property in East Deering is the bean factory, which will be renovated for use as a business incubator. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Reiche provided a reporter with a tour of the property last week, ahead of the first official open house on Tuesday, Sept. 6, which was held after the Phoenix’s deadline. 

Reiche said he and the rest of the IDEALS team have tried to be more “intensive” when it comes to the community process, acknowledging that some East Deering neighbors continue to have concerns, primarily about traffic and construction. 

The only structure that will remain standing is the actual baked bean plant, which will eventually become a business incubation space. Several other structures, including an aging codfish canning building, will be torn down and replaced by new buildings or facilities. For example, a pier will be built within the codfish building footprint.

As for the bean factory, where an iconic smokestack was dismantled before IDEALS became involved, Reiche said with a chuckle that the light-up Christmas tree seen atop the building will remain. He joked he gets asked that question probably more often than any other about the development.

The only sounds that could be heard during the Friday tour were from vehicles driving by on Interstate 295 and the occasional seagull.

B&M cannery
A cannery attached to the B&M plant will be demolished and replaced by a pier where public kayak rentals may eventually be available. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

For the public open house, Reiche said, visitors will only walk the exteriors to see where buildings will be situated, and where to expect open space, and bicycle and pedestrian trails. The bean factory building is not safe to enter, he said, because there are holes in the floor from where ovens were removed; the codfish building, which is attached to the bean building and extends to the edge of the property nearest the water, has to be torn down because of structural issues. 

Once completed, Reiche said the hope is to work with local groups to provide kayak rentals at the new pier.

Rieche said the plan is to create about a kilometer of bicycle and pedestrian trails around the property, with the hope of eventually connecting to the city’s larger trail network.

Open space will surround the buildings, and Reiche said the hope is it will feel like public space for those who wish to use it “within reason,” meaning there may be some restrictions, similar to the city’s dusk-to-dawn closing of public parks.

“Getting people down to the waterfront is something we’re really invested in,” he said.

Reiche said the property provides development challenges, but IDEALS and Northeastern are excited to preserve the historic nature of the bean building while planning and developing a campus for the next 100 years.

“We see it as a citywide initiative,” he said, while acknowledging there continue to be concerns about traffic and the scope of the project from nearby neighbors. He said IDEALS continues to try and reach as many people as possible to have personal conversations, including every person who has spoken at one of the project roundtables and Planning Board workshops.

While the full buildout may take two decades, Reiche said once the project has its approvals and can break ground, the first phase – which will include the main building being built on the southeast side of the property, a hotel, residential buildings, and renovating the bean factory – would only take about two or three years.