A couple of Internet postings in the past few days have attacked the Ark Encounter, the massive reproduction in Kentucky of the biblical Noah’s Ark, blasting it for failing as an enterprise, for taking tax money, for not doing enough for the local government, for making money, for not “helping the sick, dying and impoverished,” and a whole lot more.
“Had to laugh,” he said in a posting on Facebook. “This false piece of fiction published Saturday when 7,500 visited the Ark Encounter (and over 10,000 at both the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum) – numbers continue to grow as visitors from all over the world come to northern Kentucky.”
The “piece of fiction” to which he referred was from Nationalmemo.com, but there were several similar ones that appeared at about the same time.
The claims included that the organization was fleecing taxpayers, that it was a “dismal” failure and that backers were “lashing out at ‘intolerant atheists’ for mocking the return on investment.”
The reports even quoted Executive Steve Wood of Grant County, where the project is located, snarkily commenting: “I think the Ark’s done well (laughter) and I’m glad for them on that. But it’s not done us good at all.”
Ham, in an interview with WND, cited the long list of comments on Facebook by people who have been part of the huge crowds the site has drawn. A parking lot for 2,000 cars sometimes has been filled.
Deb Miller wrote: “I was there the week of June 12th. … It was packed both days. It was hard to find places nearby for eating.”
Added Tracy Spencer: “I was there last weekend (6/24). So many people you could hardly get thru. An awesome experience to say the least.”
“Both very crowded,” wrote Linda Reetz of her visit.
Shonda Alford added, “Another fake news organization.”
Described as the largest timber frame structure in the world, the project re-created Noah’s Ark at 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high.
It has faced headwinds from detractors since it was just a concept.
Among the opposition was a campaign to post billboards urging people not to visit the Ark.
In a blog on the AIG website, Ham recounted the long history of opposition his organization has faced, including to the nearby Creation Museum.
“When we set out to build the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky in 1996, a local atheist group vigorously opposed us. As a result, the then-Fiscal Court ruled against our re-zoning, and we had to find a different museum property. We found the piece that the museum is now built on – a much better location, right off exit 11 on Interstate 275, and we built a much bigger museum. The atheists protested outside the Creation Museum on the day it was opened in 2007. Over the years, they did all they could to try to keep us from opening a museum,” he wrote.
There also was a dispute over whether the Ark project would be allowed to participate in a state program that rebates part of the sales taxes generated by tourist attractions. A federal judge eventually ruled it could.
“These atheists had wanted to stop us from building a museum that eventually provided thousands of jobs in the area (including about 400 staff at the Answers in Genesis/Creation Museum/Hebron design facilities). They wanted to stop the opening of a facility that has added at least $60 million every year to the regional economy since it opened in 2007, based on a formula provided by the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Creation Museum has now been open for almost nine years,” Ham explained.
“The point is that atheists and other secularist groups (including the Tri-State Freethinkers) apparently would rather stop Kentucky from receiving this tremendous economic and job-creation boost that the Ark will bring, than being tolerant of Christians trying to have free exercise of their religion by building Christian-themed attractions. They really would rather hurt Kentucky than have a Christian group build such world-class attractions open to everyone who chooses to visit,” he wrote.
In the rebate dispute, critics had claimed that since the project is Christian, the state legally could discriminate against it.
But U.S. District Judge Greg Van Tatenhove in the Eastern District of Kentucky affirmed the Ark Encounter’s right to participate in the program.
The judge also affirmed AIG’s right to use a religious preference in its hiring, specifically noting that “Title VII includes exceptions” for which AIG qualifies.
More than $90 million was raised for the Ark land purchase, infrastructure, exhibit construction and the building of the park’s centerpiece: a massive, full scale re-creation of Noah’s Ark. It is expected to draw more than 1 million visitors a year.
And, as with new attractions, the long-term revenue stream isn’t clear yet.
“One company has 400 buses coming this summer,” he said.
A recent weekend day saw 10,500 at both venues, and frequently, the site’s parking lot is only half-full – but half full still is 2,000 vehicles.
He said local Williamstown officials have been very critical, contending the Ark has not helped them.
But Ham noted the municipality has approved a 50 cent per ticket tax at the Ark and is boldly projecting income of $750,000 over the coming year, which would indicate tickets sold of some 1.5 million.
Ham confirmed the project was built with millions of dollars in municipal bonds, and the Ark organization has all of the liability. It is also those supporters who are repaying the debt, he pointed out.
Actual revenue figures for the organization aren’t ready – before it finishes its first year – but Ham said he expects the IRS Form 990 requirements will be met and the information available soon.
He suggested, too, that local town officials were distressed because, despite having three years’ notice that the project was coming, they failed to approve more restaurants, motels and hotels and other services for travelers.
So those crowds are going to neighboring towns up the highway, he said.
Ham revealed some nearby areas are reporting motel occupancy rates of 98 percent.
“There’s just not enough,” he said.
The ministry has created nearly 1,000 jobs with its efforts at the two locations, in addition to the jobs in the community that are needed for support services.
Critics have accused the ministry of building its project with tax money, citing $18 million in “state tax incentive” and $62 million in municipal bonds for construction.
Ham explained that the project has received nothing from the “state tax incentive” but hopes to later this year. It is a return of a fraction of the sales taxes the group generates on its site, which are paid to the government. A fraction then is returned to the organization, as with other organizations, as an incentive.
The bonds were purchased by Ark supporters, and the project is paying them off as scheduled, he said.