Beneath the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, there lurks a monster. But this is no horror story, it’s one of dreams. Specifically, the wild dream to turn the largest cavern in the state of Kentucky into a multi-faceted business park that will soon be home to the largest underground bike park in the world. What sounds like an absolutely insane idea comes to us from co-owners of the Louisville Mega Cavern, Jim Lowry, Tom, and Don Tyler. After all, as Jim told us, their motto is “you have to be a little crazy.”
Crazy doesn’t begin to describe the Mega Cavern itself. Opened in the 1930′s by Ralph Rogers as a limestone mine, the man-made structure had been mined 24 hours a day for 42 years straight. When the digging was complete it had left a massive cavern with 4 million sq. feet and over 17 miles of passage ways. Considered to be the largest building in the state of Kentucky, the decision to turn the Mega Cavern into a business park required the creation of new building codes due to the out-of-the-ordinary circumstances.
After purchasing the cavern in 1989, Jim and his partners began a recycling operation inside in 1992 which still runs to this day. It wasn’t until 1999 that they started building offices inside for local businesses to lease, which now accounts for a half million square feet inside the cavern. Before any businesses moved in, the owners were faced with an interesting dilemma. The ceilings were so high -more than 90ft in some spots- that prospective customers came in and couldn’t picture the space being utilized, so they left. Eventually, enough dirt was brought in to raise part of the floor 62 feet, leaving a 24 foot high ceiling which was standard for warehouses at the time. Above the 24 foot high ceilings, there is another 26 feet of solid limestone – enough for geologists to call it one of the safest places in Kentucky. So safe, in fact, that it was one of the largest fall out shelters during the Cuban Missile Crisis capable of housing 50,000 people, and still acts as a safe haven for vaults and other storage today.
Even though the cavern has a massive heating and air conditioning system, Jim said it’s never used. With a nearly constant 58º F temperature, body heat and heat radiating from computers and equipment is enough to keep it comfortable. That makes it ideal for an indoor bike park as well as the zip line and ropes course since it remains warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Considering how little we actually saw of the cavern, it’s hard to process just how big it really is. One of their biggest attractions this time of year is the Lights Under Louisville – a 1.2 mile drive through the cavern in the family vehicle to see an expansive display of 2 million Christmas lights. Even though they are adding a 385 thousand square foot bike park, it seems like they are just starting to scratch the subterranean surface…