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Vertical Innovations’ logo remains prominently displayed at the old MFA grain silos in center city.
SBJ photo illustration by Wes Hamilton
Vertical Innovations’ logo remains prominently displayed at the old MFA grain silos in center city.

Plans Uprooted: Vertical Innovations looks elsewhere as downtown plans fizzle

David Geisler awaits fallout of Jim Kerns’ jury trial next month

Posted online

At least one former partner of Vertical Innovations LLC – the company with once-grand plans to convert vacant grain silos in downtown Springfield into an indoor farm – is hatching new plans for a similar concept in Aurora.

David Geisler of Vertical Innovations said he is working to finalize financing, a letter of intent and a contract to create an indoor farming operation in the town southwest of Springfield.

With a planned investment north of $12 million, the original Vertical Innovations concept was to grow lettuce and mushrooms in dozens of former MFA silos at Boonville Avenue and Phelps Street. The plans called for 200 acres worth of hydroponic growing space capable of annually producing some 2.2 million pounds of lettuce, according to Springfield Business Journal archives.

But the efforts stalled in late 2016 and early 2017 as funding was slow to blossom. The plans included a hefty, $40,000 annual lease signed with property owner Missouri State University.

The team has pruned plans, at one time deciding to just growing lettuce in three silos, a $5.5 million proposition.

As for the new venture, “I’m probably a month or so away,” Geisler said.

“But, yes, we are looking to set up a new company. We’re moving through all of the issues with Vertical Innovations.”

Because of the uncertainty, he wouldn’t specify the possible location. But a likely site exists along  a’s West Olive Street; it’s home to nearly 80 towering MFA grain silos.

One glaring issue for Geisler, however, is the upcoming trial of former Vertical Innovations partner Jim Kerns, who remains jailed in Greene County.

Kerns, who originally was credited with the vertical farming concept, was booked Aug. 10, 2017, for allegedly sexually abusing two teenage girls.

With bond still set at $75,000, he was charged with two felony counts of enticing a child, felony first-degree statutory sodomy, two felony counts of first-degree child molestation and two felony counts of abusing or neglecting a child, according to court records.

A jury trial is set for June 11 in Greene County Circuit Court.

In February 2016, Geisler, Kerns and a silent partner signed a five-year, $41,950 annual lease from Missouri State University to create the downtown silo farm, according to SBJ archives. Remnants of a former MFA operation, the silos still prominently bear Vertical Innovations’ logo. But the project is otherwise lifeless.

Suzanne Shaw, vice president of marketing and communications, said via email that MSU and Vertical Innovations mutually agreed to terminate the lease, effective Feb. 16, 2018.

The project also remains listed with the city of Springfield as a recipient of brownfields aid to remove contaminants, such as lead paint.

Vertical Innovations received unspecified funding for an environmental assessment of the 30 silos located at the site, as well as an asbestos and lead paint survey, an analysis of alternative cleanup options and a remedial action plan, according to city documentation.

City officials also provided technical assistance for the company to obtain federal brownfields financing, though no recent communication has occurred between either party, said Olivia Hough, the city’s brownfields coordinator.

Geisler said the goal now is to get past Kerns’ June 11 trial, “so we can speak definitively on how that matter ended.”

He said the planned vertical farming operation is patent-pending in regard to Kerns’ original idea and a new growing methodology he hopes to deploy in Aurora.

Geisler declined to further detail the project. Much remains uncertain, he said.

“I’m probably a month to six weeks premature before I can really speak definitively as to what’s going on,” Geisler said.

SBJ’s calls to city officials in Aurora were not returned by press time.

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