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A Boom Time for the Bunker Business and Doomsday Capitalists

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.

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 earth.”

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.

This content was originally published here.

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