Jamie S. Baker, the executive director of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce/Economic Development Authority and Tourist and Convention Commission, recently wrote an article about the impact of the Ark on the county over the last year.
(This column is reprinted with permission from Grant County News and originally appeared in “Ark Encounter: One Year Later,” a supplement inserted in the Grant County News, July 6, 2017.)
If you build it, they will come! Sound familiar? While this is a typical reference to the movie “Field of Dreams” it also applies to the Ark Encounter.
Just a short year ago, the Ark Encounter opened in our back yard.
I was excited then and I’m still excited! Grant County is in the midst of change and it’s going to keep on coming as more and more visitors come to the Ark.
This time last year, we were all wondering whether there would be a huge traffic jam as visitors tried to get to the newest attraction or whether there’d be new restaurants and businesses to open.
And while there haven’t been any traffic jams (thankfully) there have been some new businesses open with the possibility of more coming.
The Ark Encounter is doing what it said it would – it is bringing visitors to Grant County. I get calls at the chamber/economic development/tourism office daily requesting information about the Ark and what there is to see and do in Grant County.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve mailed out 250 packets of information about Grant County and what there is to see and do here. That’s not me soliciting calls, but rather folks who’ve seen our advertisements in regional and national publications picking up the phone and calling us.
That’s not to mention the visits on our web site (www.visitgrantky.com) and the countless phone numbers I’ve given out or even just the questions I’ve answered from folks planning a visit to our community wanting to know where to stay, what to see, where to eat, etc.
I know folks are coming to Grant County because I’ve been stopped at the post office and other places in town as folks are driving through and they are looking for the Ark, as well as place to grab lunch or spend a few hours exploring.
I’ve talked with several restaurant owners, hotel managers and retail clerks and they tell me they are seeing people visiting here because of the Ark and that means they are looking to spend their dollars here.
The issue for Grant County is like the question of the chicken or the egg and which came first. Right now, we’ve only got 350 hotel beds in Grant County that are running a 90 percent occupancy rate. That means we’ve got people coming but they are having to find lodging elsewhere.
If they end up staying elsewhere (and believe me I’ve heard from all surrounding counties that they are experiencing more visitors thanks to the Ark) then they are eating and looking for entertainment options near where they will be sleeping.
I’m excited because a project for three new hotels and three new restaurants have begun in Dry Ridge. Unfortunately, it takes about 15 months to build and open a hotel so we’re still going to have to deal with not having enough beds for the heads coming our way, but they are a work in progress.
I’ve also seen a boom in residents who are renting out rooms or even their houses or properties as bed and breakfasts to Ark visitors. The people coming to Grant County have opened up side businesses for many of our locals.
That’s what I see for Grant County for the next several years. We are going to be a work in progress or a community in transition. I believe we are transitioning from being a pass-through community or just a gas and go stop on Interstate-75 to a regional destination where visitors came come and sample Kentucky’s beautiful scenery, southern charm, delicious food, horses, bourbon even and have an adventure.
It’s true that since the Ark opened some businesses have closed their doors and that does make me sad, but that is also the nature of business. There are some businesses who are still struggling to stay afloat and that’s where you and I play a role that we need to support our small businesses because they are the back bone of our community.
I said this time last year that there is still much we don’t know about what the Ark will do for Grant County and we’re not going to have some of those answers for the next several years. It’s going to take time and patience. Look at King’s Island when it first opened. There was nothing at that exit but a couple of fast food restaurants and gas stations and now it’s got other entertainment options, many restaurants, hotels and shopping opportunities.
Those things are going to come to Grant County as well, but it won’t happen overnight. We’re going to continue to see businesses open and close, but Grant County has an opportunity like it’s never had and probably won’t ever get again so we’ve got to keep on keeping on.
If we market and promote ourselves right, people will soon know they can have our small town charm without the big city prices and let Grant County be the base for their exploration of the region.
I am an optimist and I think that’s what we’ve all got to be as we work together to figure it out, to patronize our existing businesses and work to attract more businesses. Grant Countians are tough and proud people and when we work together and not against each other, I believe we can and will accomplish good things.
We look forward to many more years of economically impacting Grant County and spiritually impacting visitors from all over the world with the message of the gospel.
Plan your visit at ArkEncounter.com.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.