Has The ‘Ark Park’ Run Aground?: Ky. Biblical Theme Park Has Only Weeks To Raise Millions

Kentucky has already wasted a lot of money on what increasingly looks like a boat that’s going nowhere. Tossing more money at this project isn’t going to save it; it’s only going to waste more money.

The drama surrounding Kentucky’s infamous “Ark Park” may soon be at an end amid reports that the biblical theme park is running out of time to raise the money it needs to get afloat.

Ark Encounter is the brainchild of Answers in Geneses (AiG), a fundamentalist ministry that seeks to promote creationism and debunk evolution. 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).

Ark Encounter, which is supposed to feature a 510-foot replica of Noah’s Ark, has been nothing less than a disaster from the beginning – even though misguided Kentucky lawmakers have made every effort to plug the leaky project’s holes.

Kentucky has already committed more than $40 million in tax incentives to the Ark Park. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) has backed this project under the guise that it will create jobs, but that doesn’t make this gift any less fiscally irresponsible. A park like this might create some low-wage, part-time, seasonal work – but those types of jobs are hardly worth a massive incentive package.

(As an aside, studies show that special tax breaks for individual businesses rarely bear fruit. Corporations take many things into account when deciding where to open shop, and taxes are a fairly small factor in those decisions. Much more important to a business are the available real estate, labor force and number of potential customers in an area.)

The Kentucky legislature even planned to spend $2 million on a road project in a rural area, seemingly for the sole benefit of the proposed Ark Park.

But of course all that assistance wasn’t nearly enough. According to multiple reports in LEO Weekly (a Louisville publication), AiG said in January 2011 that ground would be broken on the project 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. By early August 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.

Last we heard, AiG President Ken Ham said he hopes the Ark Park will open in 2016. Now it looks like even that is unrealistic because a last-ditch effort to save the project with municipal bonds is going nowhere.

Americans United noted in November that 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 last week that while $26.5 million in bonds have been sold already, the city must sell an additional $29 million by Feb. 6 or else those who already bought bonds will be able to collect on their investment immediately.

Perhaps the types of people who can afford large municipal bonds are a bit hesitant to invest in this taxpayer-supported biblical scheme given that Williamstown’s bonds are unrated. That means they are the riskiest type of bond offering, and the odds that the city will default on them are expected to be pretty high. Bloomberg News reported that the bond offering documents list 39 risks for investors, including the fact that AiG has no obligation to pay off the debt. Instead, Bloomberg said, bond holders would earn a return only when customers spend cash at the park.

Ham, whose $73 million “Ark Park” is now three years behind schedule, seems to be in a panic. In an email obtained by LEO, Ham made a bunch of excuses for why his ship is sinking. It’s not his fault, of course.

“As you have read in some of my prior emails, many challenges and road blocks came up as we worked through the stages of the bond offering and the first closing,” he wrote. “From atheists attempting to register for the bond offering and disrupting it, to secular bloggers and reporters writing very misleading and inaccurate articles about the bonds, to brokerage firms saying ‘yes’ but after reading these incorrect reports saying ‘no’ in allowing the Ark bonds into their client accounts – the obstacles were numerous and disruptive. Frankly, it has been an extremely stressful and frustrating time for all of us.”

Are atheists and bloggers to blame for Ham’s failures? Hardly. More likely, it’s a fragile economy combined with the fact that the “Ark Park” just isn’t a good idea.  

Kentucky has already wasted a lot of money on what increasingly looks like a boat that’s going nowhere. Tossing more money at this project isn’t going to save it; it’s only going to waste more money. Let’s hope that if this desperate bond ploy fails in February, the state finally cuts its ties with AiG.

If Ham can raise the money for his theme park on his own, let him do so. But leave Kentucky taxpayers out of it. They’ve suffered enough already.