Home Miniature house A marijuana mega-campus with 45 greenhouses climbs the Bay Area shoreline. ...

A marijuana mega-campus with 45 greenhouses climbs the Bay Area shoreline. Will it become the “apple of cannabis”?

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Richard Treiber had epiphany in December 2015, while riding a busy road in Richmond.

Squinting at the north shore, he saw an expanse of bare land and knew exactly how to fill it: with cannabis.

Enough cannabis, he later said, to inject 500 jobs and up to $ 11 million in annual tax revenue into the local economy, and enough to attract tourists to a city long dominated by its refinery of Chevron petroleum.

The 18.8-acre development that crystallized in Treiber’s mind that day was the type of hub that many investors and entrepreneurs began to envision when California voters legalized sales of marijuana to companies. recreational purposes in 2016: solar greenhouses, nurseries, tasting rooms – something akin to a Ferry Building for cannabis.

And it turned out that the land was for sale.

When the first phase of Treiber’s PowerPlant Park opens with 19 marijuana greenhouses, perhaps as early as February, this could be a brilliant model for a market that has never lived up to expectations. Plus, it could turn a struggling town of East Bay into a regional marijuana powerhouse.

Or it could be another pipe dream that goes up in smoke.

During six years of planning, Treiber ran out of money and had his timeline upended more than once. Yet he also made tantalizing promises to the city, including that 5% of his net profits go to charity.

PowerPlant Park developer Richard Treiber chats with partner Robert Livingston in Treiber’s office in Richmond, Calif., Tuesday, September 29, 2021.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Sitting in his Point Richmond office, surrounded by drawings and dioramas from the project, as well as a Bible and a painting by Abraham Lincoln, Treiber beamed with optimism. While PowerPlant is still a sprawling construction site, it predicts that by early 2022 it will be open for business, with the entire campus of 45 greenhouses – according to town planning documents – built by fall. next.

“I think of it like the apple of cannabis,” he said, comparing PowerPlant Park to the company’s brilliant Silicon Valley headquarters in Cupertino.

“On campus you have retail, distribution, transportation, culture in its own right,” he added. “There is no project like this in the state.”

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, whose project was designed by his son’s architectural firm, has praised some of its elements. The park-like setting would attract tourists; mixing different types of businesses would allow them to share operating and licensing costs; reliance on solar energy would align with Bay Area values.

Yet Butt also tried to be pragmatic about PowerPlant’s potential impact. While he agreed that the campus would bring income, jobs, and visitors to Richmond, he did not see it as a major economic driver.

Butt sits on the San Francisco Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission, one of two boards that must approve PowerPlant before the city grants building permits. He plans to recuse himself from any vote on the project. To date, Treiber’s company, Divine Development Group, has applied for eight different types of developmental cannabis licenses, including cultivation, processing and drive-thru sales.

PowerPlant Park developer Richard Treiber (center) receives a tour from Constance Finley and Josh Taylor of Constance Therapys in San Francisco, Calif. On Tuesday, September 29, 2021. Treiber recently partnered with Finley and will use the facility of Finley's Howard Street as a hub.

PowerPlant Park developer Richard Treiber (center) receives a tour from Constance Finley and Josh Taylor of Constance Therapys in San Francisco, Calif. On Tuesday, September 29, 2021. Treiber recently teamed up with Finley and will use the installation of Finley’s Howard Street as a hub.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Cannabis regulatory consultant Sean Donahoe has seen other people try the campus concept, with mixed results. In Sacramento, the 11-acre Natura Life + Science campus survived its first year of operation unscathed. But last month, Canadian company Aurora Cannabis Inc. closed a campus in Edmonton, saying in a statement that after close scrutiny, it needed to make “difficult but responsible changes.”

A few observers have noted that ambitious developments are particularly risky in the Bay Area, as land is so expensive and plans become mired in a web of permits and government bureaucracy. Obstacles like these could explain why vineyard-type cannabis hubs aren’t popping up in nearby towns, said PowerPlant architect Andrew Butt, who has helped plan other cannabis facilities.

Campuses “take up a lot of space,” Butt said, “and there isn’t a lot of land in the Bay Area. Most of these (operations) are in industrial buildings.

“Frankly,” he added, “it is difficult to get developments of any kind licensed and constructed, and the bigger and more complex they are, the more difficult it is.”

At one point, cannabis entrepreneurs in Oakland discussed the possibility of greenhouses near the airport, according to Donahoe, but the dream never materialized.

Treiber, however, is a serious entrepreneur, eager to prove his skeptics wrong.

He tells a compelling story about his introduction to the world of cannabis, after his then 5-year-old son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in 1998. Doctors prescribed a cocktail of mind-altering drugs, which Treiber described as “different amphetamine compounds” that made his son’s condition worse, he said.

PowerPlant Park developer Richard Treiber sits near a miniature greenhouse in his office in Richmond, Calif. On Tuesday, September 29, 2021.

PowerPlant Park developer Richard Treiber sits near a miniature greenhouse in his office in Richmond, Calif. On Tuesday, September 29, 2021.

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

So Treiber did some research and decided to have his son stop the drugs at the age of 13, switching to a cannabis diet. He saw the change as a success and quickly became passionate about the marijuana industry, purchasing a delivery service in San Diego in 2014, then growing 700 plants in his old home in Novato. The fire department closed this operation in 2015 because Treiber had remodeled the house’s wiring to accommodate his harvest.

“It got me trying to find space,” he said, explaining how, on a freezing winter afternoon, he found himself on Richmond Parkway, looking for a property to buy.

He admitted he had struggled to raise enough money for his estimated $ 30 million business, draining his family savings before submitting the preliminary drawings.

“I can’t tell you how many times this project has been on life support,” he said, pointing to several financial lifeboats, including his mother, who borrowed against her home in San Francisco; the landowner who leased the plot to him and then contributed $ 1.4 million to help him go through the permitting process; and tenants who made down payments on 28 greenhouses.

Yet it faced another recent setback, when PowerPlant’s solar engineer determined that an off-grid solar panel system would not produce enough electricity to power the first phase of the park. Treiber said he hopes to use a nearby solar farm once he completes construction of the four phases. Its commercial objectives are ambitious: a production of 140,000 pounds of cannabis per year.

In his office, the indomitable businessman keeps a box of gift-wrapped products: tinctures, balms, vapor cartridges, glass pipes, euphoric gummy candies.

In five months, Treiber expects visitors to flock to Richmond for these items, placing online orders for pick up at a drive-thru window. The setting, filled with palm trees, picnic tables and landscaped walkways leading to the Bay Trail, is idyllic, he said. And beyond the security barriers, the road can accommodate nearly 200 cars at a time.

Rachel Swan is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @rachelswan



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