When Australian creationist Ken Ham pitched the idea of building a giant Noah’s Ark in a rural area of Kentucky, folks in the community of Williamstown got excited. Many of them were certain that the ark would become a major tourist attraction and bring visitors – and their cash – to this struggling area.
That’s not happening. The “ark park,” formally known as Ark Encounter, opened last year, and Ham insists the attraction is doing well and drawing lots of visitors. That may or may not be true, but we do know one thing: No matter how Ark Encounter is doing, surrounding Grant County has not benefitted much.
Ken Ham's Ark Encounter in Kentucky remains afloat -- the surrounding county not so much.
“It’s been a great thing but it’s not brought us any money,” Grant County Judge-Executive Steve Wood told WKYT-TV recently. “I was one of those believers that once the Ark was here everything was going to come in. But it’s not done it. It’s not done it. I think the Ark’s done well and I’m glad for them on that. But it’s not done us good at all.”
Grant County is in pretty bad shape. As the TV station noted, the county is more or less broke and plans to raise taxes to meet its budget.
Part of the problem may simply be due to unrealistic expectations. As the New York Daily News reported that last year, park consultants claimed the attraction would create 20,000 jobs and generate $40 billion in revenue from tourism.
Let’s get real. This is a giant boat in the middle of nowhere. It’s hardly Disneyland. Ham claims attendance has been high, but as William Trollinger and Susan L. Trollinger of the Righting America at the Creation Museum Blog noted recently, we have no way of knowing if that’s true. We have to take Ham’s word for it.
To boost visitors, Ham recently announced plans to add a new feature – a giant diorama called “Why the Bible is True.” (One segment shows a man fighting off a dinosaur.) I’m sure it’s good for a laugh, but does this place really stand up to repeat visits?
As the Trollingers note on their blog, this is not just an academic discussion. Like Grant County, the small town of Williamstown has much at stake here.
“Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis (AiG) worked hard to sell Williamstown on the notion that Ark Encounter was going to be their economic lifeboat,” they write. “So the little town gave the project $62 million in Tax Incremental Funding (TIF). Over the next three decades, 75% of Ark Encounter’s property taxes will go toward repaying the bonds instead of into local coffers. Even better for AiG, if the promised economic development does not materialize, it is the taxpayers and investors who are on the hook for those TIFs, not AiG. Given all of this, it makes a great deal of sense that local officials are worried about the Ark’s failure to generate development.”
The ark park has always been an instrument of evangelism for Ham’s Christian fundamentalist faith. He had the right to build it – and we at AU wish he had done so solely with privately raised funds – but it’s a shame he bamboozled the locals into believing this bit of Kentucky kitsch would be their economic salvation.
Like Noah, Ham and his family are floating along fine. It’s too bad his neighbors just keep on sinking.