The Holy Land Experience says it is a church and not a theme park. Want proof? It lets customers into its not-theme-park for free one day a year, including on Oct. 18 this year.
In order to guarantee its tax break as a religious organization, the Orlando attraction is required to allow patrons in free once a year, waiving its usual $35 entrance fee. The Experience was granted the break under a 2006 law that recognizes it as a religious organization and not a business as long as it serves a public purpose. The purpose, apparently, is the free entry.
The Orlando Sentinel weighs in on it here.
The Sentinel examines who gets the better of the deal, those who get in for free, or the Holy Land. It reports that over the last four years, the attraction has saved more than $300,000 over the last four years when taking into account taxes saved minus revenue given up.
As an example, this year the Holy Land will save about $225,000 in property taxes through the exemption. Capacity for the attraction is 2,000. Based on a full-priced ticket, that would generate $70,000 a day. That means that tax break still saves the Holy Land $155,000 even on the free day.
Not too bad for the Holy Land.
Between 2008-11, Holy Land would have paid a $874,532 without the exemption, and the value of the free entry was far less than that. Huge crowds have attended the attraction on the freeway, more than capacity, but even at that it’s making a great deal.
The Sentinel took the scenario of giving away 4,000 free tickets, double capacity as the park allows visitors in as others leave. If it drew that number each free day from 2008 to this year, that totals $560,000, which is $314,532 less than its tax burden in that time. And that’s just if it gave away double its capacity every year, which probably isn’t likely.
That sounds like it should be illegal if it wasn’t so legal.
On its most recent tax return, Holy Land Experience Ministries Inc. reported $11.3 million in revenue in 2009, almost $5 million more than in 2008.
The Holy Land Experience is an attraction meant to simulate the architecture and themes of 1st Century Israel. Many of the features and shows are straight from the Bible, including a live recreation of the Passion of Jesus. There’s also daily karaoke!
So what do you think? Should the Holy Land Experience be tax exempt? Should having one free day a year be enough to qualify it?