Welcome to SubTropolis: The Massive Business Complex Buried Under Kansas City

More than 1,000 people spend their workdays in SubTropolis, an industrial park housed in an excavated mine the size of 140 football fields

About 10 percent of Kansas City's commercial real estate is underground, says Ora Reynolds, president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest. Landlords have made a cottage industry out of underground industrial space, thanks to rock formations near the Missouri River that allow trucks to drive into the old mines instead of tenants needing to use elevators to get things in and out.
About 10 percent of Kansas City's commercial real estate is underground, says Ora Reynolds, president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest. Landlords have made a cottage industry out of underground industrial space, thanks to rock formations near the Missouri River that allow trucks to drive into the old mines instead of tenants needing to use elevators to get things in and out.

 

The underground industrial park known as SubTroplis opened for business in 1964 in an excavated mine below Kansas City, Mo., attracting tenants with the lure of lower energy costs and cheap rents. The walls, carved out of 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, help keep humidity low and temperatures at a constant 68 degrees, eliminating the need for air conditioning or heating. Tenants have reported saving as much as 70 percent on their energy bills, says Ora Reynolds, president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest. Rents run about $2.25 per square foot, about half the going rate on the surface. "It's also a question of sustainability," says Joe Paris, vice president at Paris Brothers, a specialty foods packager that employs about 200 workers underground. In addition to Paris Brothers, 51 tenants have rented nearly 6 million square feet of space. Others include LightEdge Solutions, a cloud computing company that uses the mild climate to help cool servers, and an underground archive that contains the original film reels to Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz.

The U.S. Postal Service keeps hundreds of millions of postage stamps in an underground distribution hub at SubTropolis. There's still plenty of space here, with about 8 million square feet of land to develop—almost 10 times the floor area of Kansas City's tallest building. To reach capacity, Hunt Midwest may have to consider additional uses. Underground real estate has been used to grow mushrooms in Pennsylvania and vegetables in London. "We've talked about that," says Reynolds. "We've talked about fish, too. For now, we're trying to stick to what we're good at."
Patrick Clark

Photographs by Connie Zhou/Bloomberg Business

Industrial chic: Subtropolis boasts 17-foot-high ceilings supported by rough-hewn columns. The 270-million-year-old limestone deposits are six times stronger than concrete, according to Hunt Midwest's marketing materials.  
Industrial chic: Subtropolis boasts 17-foot-high ceilings supported by rough-hewn columns. The 270-million-year-old limestone deposits are six times stronger than concrete, according to Hunt Midwest's marketing materials.  

 

Subtropolis's cool climate helped attract cloud computing company LightEdge, which has become the anchor tenant in what Hunt Midwest hopes will develop into a major data center.
Subtropolis's cool climate helped attract cloud computing company LightEdge, which has become the anchor tenant in what Hunt Midwest hopes will develop into a major data center.

 

The U.S. Postal Service uses Subtropolis as a distribution hub for postage stamps, storing hundreds of millions of stamps in the facility.
The U.S. Postal Service uses Subtropolis as a distribution hub for postage stamps, storing hundreds of millions of stamps in the facility.

 

The USPS rents more than 500,000 square feet at SubTropolis.
The USPS rents more than 500,000 square feet at SubTropolis.

 

The National Archives and Records Association keeps old tax records and federal court documents at the facility. Pick a fight with the Internal Revenue Service and the paper trail may lead to these shelves.
The National Archives and Records Association keeps old tax records and federal court documents at the facility. Pick a fight with the Internal Revenue Service and the paper trail may lead to these shelves.

 

Vanguard Packaging prints retail packaging and supermarket displays in its 500,000-square-foot space.
Vanguard Packaging prints retail packaging and supermarket displays in its 500,000-square-foot space.

 

Vanguard calls itself the most sustainable packaging company in North America.
Vanguard calls itself the most sustainable packaging company in North America.

 

Journey to the center of the earth—or at least, to EarthWorks, an educational program that schools students on the Midwest's natural habitats in a 32,000 square-foot space in SubTropolis.
Journey to the center of the earth—or at least, to EarthWorks, an educational program that schools students on the Midwest's natural habitats in a 32,000 square-foot space in SubTropolis.

 

Some cannisters in this archive hold the original film from Gone with the Wind.
Some cannisters in this archive hold the original film from Gone with the Wind.

 

"I have no idea how many pounds of coffee I have down here," says Joe Paris, vice president at Paris Brothers, a specialty foods company. "I have thousands of bags. Some of them are 60 or 70 kilos. It's a lot."
"I have no idea how many pounds of coffee I have down here," says Joe Paris, vice president at Paris Brothers, a specialty foods company. "I have thousands of bags. Some of them are 60 or 70 kilos. It's a lot."

 

SubTropolis is down the road from an assembly plant at which Ford manufactures F150 pickups. This has attracted companies such as Knapheide, shown here, which manufactures steel bodies that get rigged onto Ford trucks.
SubTropolis is down the road from an assembly plant at which Ford manufactures F150 pickups. This has attracted companies such as Knapheide, shown here, which manufactures steel bodies that get rigged onto Ford trucks.

 

One tenant in SubTropolis's Automotive Alley is Ground Effects, which provides a variety of conversion services.
One tenant in SubTropolis's Automotive Alley is Ground Effects, which provides a variety of conversion services.

 

Road runners have been competing in 5-kilometer and 10k races inside SubTropolis's seven miles of roadways for 33 years.
Road runners have been competing in 5-kilometer and 10k races inside SubTropolis's seven miles of roadways for 33 years.