• Last resort

    Entrepreneur sells an old Kansas mine as a place to hunker down
  • ATCHISON, Kan. — Through the darkness and past massive pillars in this old limestone mine, you come upon lights shining down on several brand-new recreational vehicles.
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  • ATCHISON, Kan. — Through the darkness and past massive pillars in this old limestone mine, you come upon lights shining down on several brand-new recreational vehicles.
    Sort of a Flintstones-like RV showroom, more than 130 feet deep below thousands of tons of solid rock.
    Welcome to the doomsday world of Robert Vicino.
    Give the man credit. He's come up with selling points to get someone to pay thousands of dollars to spend a year in a travel trailer in a Kansas mine sealed shut by 2-foot-thick steel and concrete doors.
    For a reason that may never occur.
    We should all hope it's blown money.
    Vicino's plan is to turn the mines on the bluffs of this old river town into what he calls the world's biggest private survival shelter. His vision is that 5,000 paying members will make a beeline for the shelter in their recreational vehicles when nuclear war, a killer asteroid or global pandemic appear imminent.
    Beyond the doomsday event itself, he strongly pitches the resulting anarchy's roving packs of predators. "The lights go out and there is no food," Vicino, 59, said recently. "It will happen quickly. You have to decide which side of the door you want to be on."
    That door, he says, will withstand a nuclear blast as close as five miles.
    Inside his shelter, where work is just beginning, are more than 2 million square feet of RV park. Vicino promises enough food, water and generator fuel to last a year. Plans also call for a fitness center, a clinic, a theater, a school and, of course, a place to get a cold beer. The average family can secure space for $25,000 or so.
    After a year, according to Vicino's business model, the survivors will climb to the top as the next Genesis generation to repopulate the Earth.
    Sound good so far? Not to Ken Rose, a history professor at California State University at Chico. He told The Associated Press recently that although interest in underground shelters is on the rise, the Atchison project is a "colossal waste of time and money."
    The Cold War, which ended with the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago, presented the threat. "At least then, anxiety was based on a realistic scenario," Rose said.
    But look around, Vicino says. Syria, Iran, North Korea. Satellites passing over carrying who knows what. Rogue nukes. Chemical war gases. Biological terrorism.
    Don't think him a gloomy Gus. This is a guy who got his start in large inflatables. In 1983, he mounted a 90-foot King Kong onto the Empire State Building.
    And just in case an "event" never happens, his Vivos Survival Shelter and Resort — which he tagged at $25 million — will include camping, go-karts and other family-friendly amenities. Open year-round. Think of it as pre-apocalyptic bonding.
    A TV crew from Russia recently came to Atchison to do a report on Vicino's company, which includes five other shelters around the country. National Public Radio and the Nat Geo channel did segments. Vicino and his shelters have been featured in major newspapers. Katie Couric called to chat.
    Olathe (Kan.) Ford RV Center sent over new RVs to display for prospective buyers. The Atchison community is all for the project.
    "With the heavy focus on tourism that we have, we hope it will bring people to our town," said Jacque Pregont, president of the Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce. "We have a rich history to share. From a chamber standpoint, we want to promote business, so new business is always a good thing."
    Vicino does not spout religion. On a recent visit, his casual shorts and slip-on shoes, no socks, belie urgency. He's far more interested in hydroponic fresh greens than in the Mayan calendar, Nostradamus or the Bible.
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