Noah’s Ark is getting a sweet tax deal.
The planned bible-themed amusement park in Williamstown will get a 75 percent tax discount over the next 30 years thanks to an agreement with the city. The discount was awarded to Ark Encounters LLC, which already received $200,000 and 100 acres of reduced-price land from Grant County to convince the company not to move the project.
Oh yeah, also, the state itself promised $40 million worth of sales tax rebates and the potential of $11 million in interstate improvements near the project, to be financed by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
Clearly, Kentucky really, really wants to lay claim to Noah’s Ark. But there are those who aren’t sure the payoff will be worth all the breaks and incentives being given the theme park, which will be centered around a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, complete with animals and actors. Others question why the government is involved in a business that promotes religion, which would seem to go against the First Amendment.
Democratic Governor Steve Beshear, though, said the potential of adding 900 jobs and the spark to the economy that will come with it is makes the incentives worth it.
Here’s a couple stories about the project, one from the Lexington Herald-Leader and one by the New York Times.
The property is expected to be worth an estimated $150 million, but Ark Encounter would pay just 25 percent on that value. Most of that money would likely go toward the Williamstown Independent Schools.
A consultant hired by the state projected that the park could draw about 1.4 million patrons a year to see the Ark, a 100-foot Tower of Babel replica and a first-century Middle Eastern village built to look like it was from Biblical times. There will also be an immersive journey through the Old Testament including special effects that depict Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. The ark will be built by Amish craftsmen and will house animals on board in pens. There will also be a petting zoo, live animal shows and a Bible-themed play area. The adult entry fee is expected to be in the middle-to-upper $30 range and if all goes to plan, it will open in 2014.
The questions about church and state and the financial benefits being handed out aren’t the only controversies surrounding the project, though. The developer, Answers in Genesis, is also the developer of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Boone County. The Creation Museum is based on a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis and asserts that Earth and all living things were created 6,000 years ago in six days, that humans and dinosaurs coexisted and that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark. Despite the controversy, though, the museum has been a huge hit, drawing more than 1.2 million visitors since it opened in 2007 and employs about 300 people.
The Creation Museum, which is located about 40 miles from where the Ark Encounter will be, did not receive any tax incentives.
Mike Zovath, the senior vice president of Ark Encounters LLC, said the project has raised 75-80 percent of the expected $150 million cost it took from private investors. About $2 million has been spent on the project, which is scheduled to break ground in the next few months. Zovath added that if the project for some reason doesn’t come to completion, the city, county and state won’t be out any money and if it does move forward, the potential financial rewards are huge.
What do you think? Is there a violation here? Is there a problem with the state helping to promote religion? Or is this a good thing for an area that could desperately use the jobs and added revenue?