[Marxism] A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists
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Wed Aug 14 08:47:22 MDT 2019
NY Times, Aug. 14, 2019
A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists
By Julie Turkewitz
201 FEET UNDERGROUND, Kan. — In his pitch to potential buyers, Larry
Hall touts his condominium’s high ceilings and spacious living rooms.
Then there are the swimming pool, saunas and movie theater. But what
really sets the development apart, in his view, is its ability to
survive the apocalypse.
Mr. Hall has converted a former military nuclear missile vault into a
luxury condominium built 15 stories into the Earth’s crust. He is a
leader among a new group of real estate developers investing in the
nation’s central prairies and Western foothills: doomsday capitalists.
Americans have, for generations, prepared themselves for society’s
collapse. They built fallout shelters during the Cold War and basement
supply caches ahead of Y2K. But in recent years, personalized disaster
prep has grown into a multimillion-dollar business, fueled by a
seemingly endless stream of new and revamped threats, from climate
change to terrorism, cyberattacks and civil unrest.
Bunker builders and brokers have emerged as key players in this field.
And they see the interior of the country, with its wide-open spaces, as
a prime place to build. Aiding them is history. During the Cold War, the
military spent billions of dollars constructing nuclear warheads and
hiding them in underground lairs around the nation, often in Kansas,
Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Those hideaways, emptied of their
bombs, are now on the market and enterprising civilians are buying them
(relatively) cheap and flipping the properties. Eager customers abound.
The 12 apartments in Mr. Hall’s Survival Condo, as he calls it, begin at
$1.3 million. When he started selling the condos around 2011, he said,
all the units sold within months.
To Mr. Hall, and to many in his field, this is a calling, not just a
business. “I’m saving lives,” he said during a recent visit to his
bunker, the exact location of which he insisted be kept under wraps. He
entered the building’s elevator as it began its long descent into the
earth. “To me, this is something to feel good about.”
These projects have plenty of skeptics, among them John W. Hoopes, a
professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas who spent years
studying the myth that the world would end in 2012. He accused doomsday
investors of hawking “survival porn,” which he described as a
“hypermasculine fantasy” that danger is near and a select few will be
able to save themselves and their families — if they are prepared.
“Fear sells even better than sex,” Professor Hoopes said. “If you can
make people afraid, you can sell them all kinds of stuff,” he added,
“and that includes bunkers.”
But survival homes now dot America’s interior, pulling in clients who
are part of a larger movement of people who are choosing to retreat from
society, or at least ready themselves for escape.
Kiki Bandilla, 52, a health insurance agent in Castle Rock, Colo.,
distanced herself from people she called “Chicken Littles,” who think
“the sky is falling.” She characterized her membership at a survival
community called Fortitude Ranch as a reasonable insurance policy.
“I don’t like to be dependent on anything, be it big government, big
food sources or big pharma,” she said. “My interest isn’t from a place
of fear. My interest is from a place of freedom.”
In recent years, Prepper Camp, a three-day disaster-preparedness and
homesteading expo in North Carolina, has turned into a survivalist’s
Burning Man. PrepperCon, outside Salt Lake City, has drawn thousands of
visitors. Bunker-in-a-box companies have proliferated, sending
ready-made shelters to suburban doorsteps. High-end real estate agents
now track down hideaways for California techies and Texas oil executives.
In Las Vegas, an underground bunker built by the Avon Cosmetics
executive Girard Henderson, featuring a midcentury chef’s kitchen and a
wood-burning fireplace, is on sale for $18 million.
Here in Kansas, one couple has been selling old missile silos through a
company called 20th Century Castles. In Colorado, a former weapons
compound featuring half a mile of underground tunnels is listed on the
real estate site LoopNet for $4.2 million.
In Indiana, Robert Vicino, a California property developer, has
converted a former government site into an underground mansion called
Vivos that he says is “like a very comfortable four-star hotel.” He has
also purchased 575 former weapons cellars in South Dakota that he is
turning into a subdivision he calls the “largest survival community on
Bunker clients say they are united not by ideology — liberals,
conservatives and political agnostics exist side by side in this world —
but by a belief that global forces have left societies increasingly
vulnerable to large-scale disaster.
Tom S., 69, who works in information technology and lives outside
Atlanta, purchased one of the Vivos cellars after becoming increasingly
concerned about political unrest, among other things. His
2,200-square-foot bunker is also a great jumping-off point for exploring
the Rockies, and he and his wife plan to use it as a home base when he
retires, he said.
(For now, if disaster strikes, the plan is for them to pack the car and
make the roughly 26-hour drive from Georgia to South Dakota.)
Tom declined to make his last name public, citing concern that he would
be harassed online, but he said the purchase had the incidental effect
of putting him in touch with his political opposites.
He identifies as conservative but his bunker neighbor is liberal, and
they once had a spirited conversation about President Trump.
In Kansas, Mr. Hall, 62, of Survival Condo, has become one of this
industry’s best-known businessmen, mostly because of the complexity of
his operation and his savvy promotion efforts.
The condo sits down a country road, past grazing cattle, a wire fence
and a guard in fatigues gripping a rifle. Visitors enter through a
concrete dome; below sit the apartments, outfitted with fake windows
made of digital screens; the subterranean swimming pool; a dog park; a
weapons cache; and storerooms for food. Buyers pay monthly condominium
fees of about $2,600.
Mr. Hall has outfitted the building with five air filters, connected it
to the electrical grid, drilled a well to the local aquifer, and set up
diesel generators, a wind turbine and a battery bank, all for backup power.
The doors that cap the entire operation weigh 16 tons, and close behind
visitors with a booming slam.
Mr. Hall spent a career building data centers for defense contractors
like Northrop Grumman. After 9/11, shaken by the attacks, he hatched a
plan to build protected information hubs; when he saw that the market
was glutted, he turned to protecting people.
From his defense days, Mr. Hall knew that the government had been
selling off its underground weapons warehouses. In 2008, he purchased
one for about $300,000 and told his wife, Lori, and young son that they
were moving from Florida to Colorado so he could start his bunker
business. That silo soon became the Kansas Survival Condo.
Ms. Hall, sitting in a cushioned chair in the bunker living room, said
friends warned her against the project. But she admired her husband’s
creative spirit and threw her support behind him. “It’s hard to be the
first one,” she said.
The site had initially held an Atlas-F missile, an intercontinental
weapon with a warhead hundreds of times more powerful than the bomb
dropped on Nagasaki. The missiles, built and buried around 1960, lasted
only five years in their hide-outs before they were removed and
converted into space rocket launchers, or scrapped entirely. The
military had decided to replace them with more sophisticated missiles
and abandon the bunkers. The Air Force eventually turned the empty
vaults over to the General Services Administration, which auctioned them
off to civilians.
The Survival Condo vault, which cost the military millions to build, was
sold to a civilian in 1967 for $3,030 and passed through several owners
before making it to Mr. Hall.
(Today, officials use websites like gsaauctions.gov to sell unwanted
government property. Receiving bids recently: a commercial dryer from
NASA, for $100; a painting of Old Tbilisi, for $150; and a parcel of a
missile site in Wyoming, for $3,000.)
It cost Mr. Hall $20 million to remodel what was in fact a hole in the
ground, money he raised from pre-sale of the units. Because few banks
issue loans for bunkers, his clients financed their apartments
themselves, wiring him the cash.
More recently, he has purchased a second Kansas vault. He mostly broke
even on the initial project, he said, and swears that interest in the
second one “is picking up.” Among the potential buyers, he said, are
representatives of the Saudi Arabian military, who have asked him to
draw up plans for an on-site heliport and underground mosque.
The Saudi embassy in Washington declined to comment.
But build-out of the new bunker, which is three times as big as the
first, now occupies most of his time. There is so much to get done, he
said, and the end could come any minute.
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