It seems reports of the demise of Kentucky’s infamous “Ark Park” have been greatly exaggerated – or at least that’s what the project’s head would like us to believe.
Americans United has followed the saga of Ark Encounter, which is the brainchild of the creationist ministry Answers in Geneses (AiG), for several years. We took an interest because AiG has sought financial help from both the state of Kentucky and the town where the park is supposed to be built – even though it is a fundamentalist outfit that seeks to promote creationism and debunk evolution.
Ark Encounter, which is supposed to feature a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, has been an unmitigated disaster from the start. Yet misguided Kentucky lawmakers keep making efforts to plug the leaky project’s holes.
Now, after years of delays, AiG President Ken Ham said ground will be broken on the park in May. And this time, he says he really means it.
“We’re going to begin construction, and this is going to be great for the area,” Ham said in an online announcement. “Let’s build the ark.”
Ham even gave a rough idea of when the park would open: summer 2016.
It’s certainly possible that Ham is being honest for once, but it’s pretty tough to trust anything he says when it comes to his pet project. To recap Ham’s ever back-peddling timetable: He said in January 2011 that work would begin that spring; then in May of that year, AiG said groundbreaking would be over the summer; in June, AiG said construction would begin in August; and by early August 2011, AiG still had not broken ground but promised that it would happen “in the next few months.”
Then in late August 2011, AiG bumped the timetable way back, saying groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2012.
So what makes Ham think the “Ark Park” construction can begin in May? We’re not sure, because the math surrounding the project remains fuzzy at best. Back in November, the city of Williamstown, which already gave the overtly religious park a 75 percent property tax break, decided it would sell $62 million in municipal bonds starting in December for AiG affiliates.
That hasn’t quite worked out. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in January that while $26.5 million in bonds had been sold, the city needed to sell an additional $29 million by Feb. 6 or else those who already bought bonds would be able to collect on their investment immediately.
What happened with that? The city won’t say, the Courier-Journal reported this week. We do know, however, that the project is estimated to cost $120 million and the state said it would generate about $119 million in revenue over 10 years, including sales and income taxes. Even if those numbers are accurate (and they’re assuming the park will get hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, which is dubious at best), that means it would take 11 years for the “Ark Park” to turn a profit. Talk about a slow return on an investment.
Now you can see why we’re not holding our breath for a May ground breaking. We’re also not confident that the “Ark Park” makes any sense financially for the state given AiG’s track record.
AiG already owns Kentucky’s embarrassing Creation Museum, where kids are taught that the earth is only 6,000 years old and can “learn” what it was like in the olden days when humans rode around on dinosaurs (which, outside of “The Flintstones,” never happened).
AiG claims as many as two million people will visit the park in its first year. That seems unlikely. We know that the Creation Museum, which is only seven years old, has already experienced attendance problems. The number of people who visit each year has declined since it opened, peaking at 404,000 in 2007 and falling to 254,074 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012.
In August, Ham said the museum would add some secular attractions, such as zip lines, in order to attract a wider audience. That’s fine and well for the museum, but what does that say about the ability of a religious attraction to draw visitors and make money?
The “Ark Park’s” problems are real, from both a fiscal standpoint and a church-state perspective. The negative press Ham has gotten isn’t just some witch hunt, but that’s not how he sees it. Ham, who claims that “God has burdened AiG to rebuild a full-size Noah’s Ark,” once again went out of his way to bash the press. In his announcement that construction would begin on the park in May, he denounced reporters and “atheist bloggers” for supposed “distortions” about the project.
Just to be clear: Ham is within his rights to build a fundamentalist theme park. What concerns us is that Kentucky seems determined to prop up the project at every turn despite its obvious sectarian overtones and growing evidence that it will never pan out. And even if the “Ark Park” one day gets afloat, what kind of jobs will it bring? Seems like mostly seasonal work that pays low wages and offers no benefits. That is hardly worth massive tax breaks.
Kentucky lawmakers are wasting their time on this project. They’d best pull the plug immediately, or they’re going down with Ham’s ship.