Marty Gordon

Work has begun reviving the Marketplace Shopping Center at 2705 Market Street in Christiansburg, but many people remember the site’s roots as a Virginia Tech orchard.

Until the mid-80s, Virginia Tech operated a horticultural research facility on the land that became the Marketplace Shopping Center.

A land deal in the mid-80s swapped the orchard for 1,000 acres of rolling agricultural land along the New River and led to Christiansburg’s retail center landscape.

At the center of the orchard swap was real-estate developer Jay D. Nicewonder, a longtime supporter of the university and William Matthews, a former associate athletic director at Tech.  The two would spearhead the exchange and carve a piece of the area’s history.

The orchard property was valued at $3.6 million and encompassed the university’s 220-acre agricultural research area. The property Tech received in return was known as the Whitethorn Plantation, now Kentland Farm, part of the university’s 3,000 acre teaching, research and extension College Farm operation.

At the Horticulture Farm, more than 20 acres were dedicated to apple and peach tree research.

Media reports from 1987 said Tech officials offered the exchange after realizing the school’s agricultural land was disappearing under building, expansions, highways and other development.

Following the swap, developers moved quickly for a rezoning that allowed a strip mall on the…

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