Husson University plans new campus on outer Congress Street in Portland

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PORTLAND — Husson University is looking to expand and move its southern Maine campus.

The university has a building and nearly seven acres of land at 1945 Congress St. under contract to buy from the Portland Elks for $2.05 million.

Provost Lynne Coy-Ogan said the university would like to tear down the Elks lodge and construct a new campus for 500 students.

The Elks, meanwhile, are planning to move to 178 Warren Ave. The City Council on Monday conducted a first reading of a zoning amendment that would allow places of assembly in the Warren Avenue business zone.

Husson, which also needs a zone change to move forward, began offering classes in South Portland about 15 years ago. Coy-Ogan said the space the university leases at 220 Maine Mall road is near its 300-student capacity.

The proposed campus on Congress Street would replace the South Portland campus, she said.

In addition to hosting its College of Business, Coy-Ogan said the Portland campus would also offer courses in hospitality and sports management, new majors in business and software development, and concentrations in real estate and franchises.

The appeal of Congress Street, Coy-Ogan said, is its location: a highly visible, four-lane section of Congress Street near the Maine Turnpike, Interstate 295 and the Portland International Jetport.

She said Husson would like to have the new campus open by the end of next year.

City Planner Jean Fraser said the university is proposing a zoning amendment that would add “college, university or trade school” as a conditional use in the residential, R-2, zone.

While there are only a few homes adjacent to the Elks property, Fraser said Planning Board members will likely raise questions about potential impacts on other R-2 zones.

The R-2 zone is intended for low-density residential development, mostly single-family homes, on individual lots. Conditional uses include institutions such as elementary, middle and secondary schools; extended/long-term care facilities; and places of assembly.

Neighbors frequently cite traffic impacts when an institutional use is proposed in residential areas.

“There are questions,” Fraser said. “I just don’t know which ones will come to the forefront.”

The sale of the Elks property is contingent on Husson and the Elks Club receiving their zoning approvals.

A rezoning request letter was filed Nov. 23 by Bangor attorney John Hammer. The application was signed by John Rubino, Husson vice president of administration.

Fraser said the Planning Board will likely take up Husson’s request in a January workshop.

Husson now enrolls about 2,500 students at its Bangor campus. Another 400 students are enrolled in South Portland and Presque Isle.

Coy-Ogan said the university hopes to establish a bigger presence in southern Maine.

“We’re really excited about the opportunity, about being able to respond to increased demand for our programs,” she said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

Editor’s note: John Rubino, the Husson vice president, is the father-in-law of reporter Randy Billings.

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Husson University has agreed to buy the Portland Elks Lodge and nearly seven acres of land on outer Congress Street in Portland, where it hopes to build a campus for 500 students.

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