A Look Ahead: Need Space? Consider a Cave

Spring 2013
Federal government tenants, such as the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, incur lower utility costs due to the year-round geothermal temperature of underground space.

Tenants in need of secure climate controlled space at affordable rates have another option to explore — if they’re willing to go underground. According to Jim Ryden, vice president, southeast region, Space Center, Inc., the Kansas City area is home to 25 million square feet of developed, subsurface real estate.

Ryden’s project, the 4.9-million-square-foot Space Center Independence underground industrial park, is a reclaimed limestone mine that operated from 1958 to 1989.

The underground space was toured by members of the NAIOP Industrial I Forum in August 2012. Why would a developer be interested in owning such a project? “The space is unique, environmentally friendly and cheaper to operate,” said Ryden who emphasized that the true economics of construction are realized in cost avoidance with ceiling, subfloor and other structural elements of the mine that did not require building.

food warehouse storage inside a cave

The Space Center Independence warehouse space accommodates several food and packaging companies looking for storage options and lower rents.

Located approximately 13 miles from downtown Kansas City and 80 feet underground, the limestone in the cave is 25 feet thick and protected from water intrusion by shale which lays above the roof of the cave. The first tenant of the park, Hunt-Wesson Foods, arrived in 1975, while the mine was still in active production. Though Space Center was able to isolate mining operations from the real estate function during this period, their preference was to conclude mining activities before converting the space for real estate use. Other tenants include the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; Grainger, Burd & Fletcher Packaging; and General Mills. Uses of the underground space include warehouse, records storage and light manufacturing.

Apart from comfortable, year-round geothermal temperatures and covered parking, other features include:

  • Rents that are approximately one-third less than those for comparable surface properties;
  • Lower utility costs and Energy Star certified;
  • Excellent ventilation — the common area air is replaced every 24 minutes or 2.5 times per hour;
  • Clearance heights of 15 feet +/-;
  • Bay spacing at 36 feet +/- ;
  • Columns at 24 feet square on 60 feet centers, leaving a 36-foot bay spacing between pillars;
  • A location within 13 miles of Union Pacific rail service;
  • Heavy power and high-speed data availability;
  • Heavy internal storage due to bedrock limestone structure; and
  • State-of-the-art fire alarm and sprinklers.