Did you know that 10% of Kansas City’s industrial market is underground? While it’s not really a “building” per-se, located 160 feet below the surface of Kansas City lies one of the world’s largest underground office complexes: SubTropolis.
Developed by late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Hunt Midwest Real Estate Development, Inc., the Subtropolis business center (housed directly under Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun we might add!) currently has over 50 tenants, with no sign of growth slowing anytime soon.
A little history about SubTropolis
The underground tunnels of SubTropolis have been around much longer than the companies housed inside of them. During the 1940’s, miners started work on a 270-million-year-old limestone deposit, called Bethany Falls. This process resulted the 55 million square-feet mined out of the Bethany Falls layer, with 14 million square-feet usable for underground industrial space. The miners then recycled the deposits. These deposits eventually helped to create the tarmacs at the Kansas City airport, and were used to pave Interstate 435.
“We were green before it was cool to be green,” commented Hunt Midwest’s Marketing and Creative Services Manager, Eric Ford.
In the 1960’s, Hunt Midwest realized there was an opportunity for business expansion, not on the surface, but below ground. With the heavy-lifting done 20 years prior, they determined construction would be less expensive underground than a normal industrial building would be on the surface. The mining process also left 25-foot square pillars on 65-foot centers and 40 feet apart––which turned out to be ideal for planning square footage of new office space.
Ford Motor Company, Russell Stover and Pillsbury became SubTropolis’ first tenants in 1964. Since then, the underground business complex has continued to grow, in more ways than originally thought possible.
The benefits of working underground
More than 1,600 employees currently work under the “World’s Largest Green Roof” and while that might sound like an impressive number, even more expansion is planned.
The companies that work in SubTropolis save an average of 50 – 70% in total energy costs compared to offices above ground. With the temperature ranging from 65-70 degrees year around, large companies don’t have to worry about their industrial equipment freezing in the winter or overheating in the summer.
Concrete flooring and 16-foot high, smooth ceilings make build-to-suit facilities time and cost efficient for tenants. Those requiring 10,000 to one million square feet can be in their space within 150 days. SubTropolis tenants also save an average of 30-50% on rent compared to aboveground facilities due to the cheap cost to develop space underground.
“A tenant has reported to me that he saves $35,000 a month on utilities being in SubTropolis,” said Ford.
Who spends their days at SubTropolis?
Minus Hunt Midwest’s leadership team, the SubTropolis tenants range from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), to the United States Postal Service. Because of this, the security at SubTropolis must meet a GSA Level III standard––close to the highest security level. There are security officers on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week with state-of-the-art sprinklers systems monitored by a centralized computer.
SubTropolis naturally maintains temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Even though there are no windows, fresh air is abundant…after all, the EPA has chosen to locate there so we know for sure our air quality standards are being met!
“Companies enjoy constant temperature and humidity because it provides quality control for their individual operations,” says Vice President and Manager of Hunt Midwest Mike Bell.
SubTropolis holds the highest ENERGY STAR energy performance rating possible from the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE), and is one of the reasons companies like the NARA are located there.
When NARA first took occupancy in SubTropolis, they began with 102,000 square feet of space and leased an additional 67,314 square feet of build-to-suit space just last year. The additional space includes more storage bays to accommodate the growing number of federal and archival records being managed by the Kansas City location. NARA’s facility also includes 34,000 additional square feet for office and staging areas.
“There is truly no other industrial space of this size and type in this in the country…maybe even the world,” says Bell.
SubTropolis Plan for Expansion
As of mid August 2015, SubTropolis has over 6 million square feet of space available for lease. Mike Bell, Vice President and General Manager of Hunt Midwest, says not only are they focusing on attracting commercial industries as they have in the past, they are actively looking at one specific type of industry to move below the surface––Ecommerce.
When FoodServiceWarehouse.com (FSW) opened a 475,000-square foot warehouse and distribution center back in 2014, they created a 1,400,000 SF e-commerce cluster inside of SubTropolis. For perspective, all of Arrowhead Stadium could comfortably fit inside the FSW space. The lease included an option to grow to almost 800,000 square feet in four years.
“When we toured SubTropolis, we immediately saw the opportunity it held for our company,” said Madhu Natarajan, CEO of FSW. The logistics alone are impressive, but the potential to grow our footprint within the underground, and the ability to access high-speed connectivity helped us make our final decision to move here.”
“There’s so much opportunity for growth at SubTropolis….and we’re not even halfway yet,” said Bell.
Not only is SubTropolis expanding below the surface, they are currently working on construction to expand their above ground space too. Many companies that help make up SubTropolis’ Automotive Alley, are looking to grow above ground. With development opportunities above and below the surface, the story of SubTropolis is only beginning.
This blog is part of a new series aimed to highlight historical buildings that help define our Kansas City skyline. If you know of a Kansas City building that has a historical story to tell, please email it to Kaitlin Brennan for consideration.