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Lindley Estes is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Lindley Estes.

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King George greenhouse coming back to life

Tomatoes were formerly grown at the greenhouse

A Spotsylvania County resident is planning to bring a 42-acre King George County greenhouse back to life.

Late last year Marcel Vyverberg and business partners bought the greenhouse near the Birchwood power plant and King George landfill off State Route 3 from an affiliate of GE Energy Financial Services.

Since then Vyverberg has been cleaning up the greenhouse, which hasn’t been open for five years. By late this year or early 2013 he hopes to have it ready to lease to companies growing flowers, organic vegetables, potted plants and more.

“The place is so massive you can put anything in it,” Vyverberg said.

The greenhouse will be heated with propane after a new plant is built later this year, but Vyverberg is interested in pursuing alternative fueling sources down the road. In early 2007, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ended a requirement that had forced the coal-fired Birchwood plant to provide steam to the greenhouse complex, where Colorado-based Sun Valley Farms had grown more than 10 million pounds of hydroponic tomatoes a year. The greenhouse closed soon after that requirement ended.

Vyverberg’s business background is in building greenhouses. He was involved in the construction of the Birchwood greenhouse in the mid-1990s so was familiar with the property when the GE affiliate put it on the market for sale.

Vyverberg and his partners purchased the facility after a deal to sell it to Toigo Organic Farms didn’t work out. Toigo had planned to heat the greenhouse with steam piped in from the nearby landfill, which has turbines powered by naturally occurring methane gas. The project was approved for a $1 million grant through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the funds were never paid out.

Vyverberg said there is ample cleanup to be done at the greenhouse following years of disuse. He plans to refurbish the facility in stages.

When it’s ready, Vyverberg envisions leasing the space to four or five professional growers. Years spent building greenhouses has familiarized him with companies that could use the space. He is from the Netherlands and has many business contacts there who might be interested in establishing a foothold in the U.S. He’s also talking to domestic users.

Vyverberg thinks the greenhouse could provide an opportunity for companies that want to establish a small, cost-effective presence in Virginia with the potential to expand.

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