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Ark Encounter gets tax incentive up to $18.25M

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) — The Kentucky tourism authority has granted the Answers in Genesis apologetics ministry a tax incentive that could top $18 million for its Ark Encounter museum opening July 7 in Williamstown.

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved the incentive at its April 25th meeting, ending a years-long AiG battle with the state for the incentive that allows developers of certain tourism projects to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over a 10-year span.

The approval followed a Jan. 25 federal appeals court decision requiring the state to grant the incentive that AiG had sued to obtain. The state had argued that AiG would use religion to discriminate in hiring employees, and that the use of tax incentives to advance religion violated state law.

Newly elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin chose not to contest the January court ruling. The tourism authority, with four new members appointed by Bevin, approved the incentive 7-0 with two members absent, the Courier-Journal newspaper reported.

Through a $62 million bond offering and $33.5 million in donations, AiG has raised $93.2 million of the $95.5 million goal to fund the museum’s construction, Ham told Baptist Press today (April 27), emphasizing the incentive is not being used to fund the project. Instead, businesses must operate for a full year before beginning to receive rebates from the incentive.

“A lot of the atheists and some of the secular media were claiming for the last couple of years now, that we’re using tax-payer money … to build the ark,” Ham said. “Well, the tourism tax incentive didn’t even get approved until this past Monday, so it has nothing to do with building the ark. This is a performance-based incentive, and it’s only a rebate on the sales taxes paid within the facility once you open, and it’s up to a certain maximum over 10 years.”

AiG has estimated the rebate could amount to as much as $18.25 million, based on attendance projections and the cost of the project’s first phase. Still, the incentive was a contributing factor to AiG’s decision to build the ark in Kentucky.

“We commissioned a specialist in real estate to look for properties” in the tri-state area of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, Ham said. “The tourism tax incentive was certainly a … significant factor in the choosing of the property.”

AiG did not apply for the tax incentive for its first project in Kentucky, the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, which AiG said has attracted over 2.5 million guests since opening in 2007.

“When we first came out here and looked for a place to build the Creation Museum,” Ham said, “we just did not know about the incentive” that must be applied for before construction begins.

The Ark Encounter is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark with 140,000 square feet of exhibit space inside. It is flanked by a 1,500-seat restaurant, a lodge, a small zoo and other amenities.

Ham hopes the ark and upcoming phases of the biblical theme park, including a World City, a Tower of Babel and a First Century Village, will spur interest in the Bible and encourage many to accept the Gospel.

“The secularists have been trying to shut down people talking about the Bible, talking about Christianity,” Ham said. “[AiG wants] to do something that will impact the public with the Christian message, in other words, get them talking about it, and the ark certainly will.

“From what our research indicates, up to 2 million people a year could come to this,” he said. “I think it will be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era. I don’t think there’s any other Christian attraction like this … that would impact that many people.”

The Ark Encounter will offer day and night attendance during its first 40 days of operation, evoking the 40 days and nights of rain from which Noah’s ark provided protection. Tickets will allow attendance from 9 a.m. –4 p.m., or 5 p.m.–12 a.m.

“While the Ark Encounter will be able to accommodate 16,000 guests per day, our consultant’s research has shown that we could possibly expect more than that during the first few weeks of opening, especially during the summer time frame,” Ham said. “So, to make sure this themed attraction remains an enjoyable experience for everyone, we are adding a nighttime shift for the first 40 days.”

Its July 7th opening is also significant.

“We are so excited that the construction progress and schedule landed on this 7/7 date,” Ham said in an AiG press release. “Genesis 7:7 states that Noah and his family entered the ark. So it’s fitting we allow the public to enter the life-size Ark on 7/7.”

Ham expects construction on the ark itself to be complete by the end of May, with landscaping and construction of amenities continuing up until the opening. The ark is slated to employ 35-40 fulltime workers and 300–400 seasonal staff.

The second phase of the project, a World City, will display life as it would have been in Noah’s house and city, Ham said.