Plans to build a state-of-the-art waterfront campus for Northeastern’s Roux Institute in Portland, Maine, were overwhelmingly supported by members of the public who spoke out during a Planning Board meeting on Tuesday.
“I think the future is very bright,” said Orlando Delogu, a Portland resident who told board members he has followed the rise of the Roux Institute over the past two-and-a-half years and looks forward to seeing what more Northeastern can accomplish as it moves from leased space to a permanent home.
“This is a unique opportunity for the state of Maine, for the city of Portland,” Delogu said.
Renderings of Roux Institute’s new campus were presented during the public online meeting. Planning Board members asked appropriate questions about the size and scope of the project, which have been discussed for several months.
The integrated campus plan includes a variety of buildings to be developed in phases as the institute grows. The buildings include academic spaces for learning and research, new business and startup incubation space, and collaborative facilities for Roux Institute partners.
In response to demand, the plan also calls for housing to support Roux Institute students, faculty and staff.
The property will be restored to its natural state. Roux leaders and designers laid out a detailed vision of a large area fed by public walkways and bike paths that will revitalize a former factory space while driving the institute’s mission to empower the tech industry in Maine.
The plans, which were updated after previous public feedback, drew no objections from Portland residents as neighbors said they look forward to the redevelopment of the area on the shores of Casco Bay.
The institute currently is housed two miles away in 44,000 square feet of space operated by WEX, a founding corporate partner of the Roux Institute. The Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences (IDEALS), a nonprofit formed to create a permanent site for the Roux, announced last year that it had purchased the waterfront property, the site of the former B&M Baked Beans factory, in East Deering. IDEALS will finance and manage construction of the new campus, and ownership will be transferred to Northeastern at a later date.
Based on what he’s already seen, Delogu said he has no doubt the Roux will continue to be a community asset, just on a much larger scale.
“The Roux Institute has given us a model, a microcosm of what the future holds on a larger space,” Delogu said. He listed the institute’s successes since its creation in January 2020: “The programs that have been undertaken and the number of students that have become involved; the number of jobs that have been created, the number of spinoff and smaller startup firms, the diversity of the staff, the student body.”
The institute so far has served more than 1,200 learners while growing to partner with more than 100 organizations, including companies and academic and community organizations.
The proposed campus is designed around four principles, said architect Timothy Mansfield of the architectual firm CambridgeSeven:
- Connection to the waterfront, Portland and the world. The plans include three public acres of waterfront parkland and a restoration of the historic B&M Baked Beans factory, which ended production last year. Land on the edge of the campus has been reserved for a potential freeway exit in case the growth of the institute results in traffic that exceeds expectations.
- Places to gather. The center of the campus will be a pedestrian zone with a bike path that circles the site. Features include a public cafe, seating along the waterfront and a dock. The two tallest buildings, which have been relocated to the center of campus, will serve as a hotel and campus housing (the latter may be available for rent to the general public based on student demand).
- Sustainable and resilient campus. The institute is developing a sustainable charter that includes a seawater heat exchange, green roofs and geothermal energy.
- Integrated landscape. The campus will make use of stone, granite, brick, copper and other materials that have traditionally defined the city. “We’re reclaiming a wasteland of tarmac and industrial buildings,” Mansfield said. “This is an opportunity to create a landscape that’s welcome to all, that supports the diversity of activities, and feels like it’s part of Portland.”
More than $200 million has been invested in the Roux Institute, which was launched by the university with a $100 million investment from technology entrepreneur and Maine native David Roux and his wife, Barbara. They joined with Northeastern to ignite their vision of a Portland-based hub to educate generations of talent for the digital and life sciences sectors and create new ideas through research.
In October 2020, the institute received a $100 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation, an investment that provides financial aid for graduate-level students, funding for post-doctoral research, and support for co-ops with Maine employers.
“The people who are working in the institute—the learners, the partners, the researchers and the entrepreneurs—need a campus that’s integrated and that can meet their needs for constant collaboration and convenience,” Chris Mallett, the institute’s chief administrative officer, told the Planning Board. “That’s how we believe change and innovation happen: By connecting people with one another.
“We’re excited about the plan because we think it gives us the best prospects to do just that—and also to attract experts from around the world to join us and convene at the Roux Institute campus and participate in the process.”
Mallett emphasized Northeastern’s long-term commitment to the institute. Northeastern’s global university system includes 13 campus locations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom.
“Just think about what this opportunity can mean to the people of Portland, the people of Maine, creating the chance for young people to stay home and to work in the 21st-century economy,” said Chuck Hewett, executive director of IDEALS. “We see a dynamic center for learning and an innovation hub that can propel the state into a very exciting future.”