It is getting a little difficult to keep up with the latest news concerning Australian creationist Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky, but let’s try. I promise you, it’s worth it.
On our last episode of “As the Ark Turns,” Ham announced that he had sold Ark Encounter, a tourist attraction he created that centers on a replica of Noah’s Ark. Ark Encounter was founded as a for-profit enterprise, but Ham sold it to a nonprofit group that he runs, Crossway Canyon, for $10.
Ham, local officials speculated, was maneuvering to get out of paying a 50-cent- per-ticket tax imposed by the city of Williamstown to pay for public safety services – fire, police and ambulances – the costs of which have escalated since the “Ark Park” opened.
Ken Ham's Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky is back to being a for-profit. (Photo by Jameswiki via Wikimedia)
But wait, there’s more! Ham might have also been positioning the park to demand exemption from all state and local taxes since it would be operating as a religious non-profit. This would have been devastating for the local public school system in Grant County, which relies on property taxes for funding.
If that was Ham’s scheme, it backfired badly. When officials in Kentucky’s tourism office got wind of the park’s shift to a nonprofit, they yanked an $18-million subsidy Ark Encounter was scheduled to receive due to a rebate it gets on taxes imposed on tickets, food and souvenirs.
Ham had insisted that Ark Encounter would be a for-profit when he applied for the tax rebate. To get the rebate as a nonprofit, the park would have to re-apply.
You can probably guess what happened next: Ham did a quick about face. He handed himself ten bucks and sold Ark Encounter back to itself. (It gets confusing, I know.) The upshot is that the Ark Park is a for-profit entity once again, and Ham’s subsidy is likely safe.
Ark Encounter has issued a long statement asserting how none of this is its fault, they weren’t doing anything shady, it’s all a media frame-up and blah, blah. Nothing is ever Ham’s fault, after all, but in this case, I think he and his pals doth protest too much. The bottom line is, Ham tried to pull a fast one and got busted.
When Ham announced plans a few years ago to build his ark in northern Kentucky, AU warned local officials not to get too cozy with him. But they were so entranced by the idea of attracting some jobs – even mediocre ones – that they climbed aboard for the ride. Officials floated junk bonds for the park, gave the scheme tax breaks, sold Ham a 98-acre parcel of land for $1 and agreed to let him impose religious qualifications on the people he hires.
Ham responded to that generosity with bile, but his latest stunt was perhaps his most audacious yet. He didn’t get away with it – in fact, he’s now saying the park will pay the safety tax.
Ham’s still getting a sweet deal, but at least it’s no longer a completely free ride.