One would think that with the Ark Encounter being open for more than three and a half years and attracting over a million people each year—with area hotels, restaurants, and shops bustling with Ark visitors—that nobody would question the massive positive economic impact the Ark has had in Grant County and the entire region (as well as through the Ark’s sister attraction, the Creation Museum). Unless that is, you hear from some secularists and others who claim otherwise. That includes the recent “documentary” on PBS-TV about the Ark Encounter entitled “We Believe in Dinosaurs.”
In December 2016, a controversial filmmaker entered the film project and helped fund it, taking it in a new and mocking direction than what was promised.
Now originally, and as we have informed the press, we were told by the producers of this film that they were doing a supposed documentary emphasizing the creative side of making museum exhibits, and they wanted to shadow our artists, also exploring how science is presented at these types of museums. Despite assurances to the contrary, these producers were either deceptive or changed their minds without informing us and created a heavily biased film designed to sway viewers to a specific conclusion, which, along with many misrepresentations and errors, does not rise to the level of a real documentary. In December 2016, a controversial filmmaker entered the film project and helped fund it, taking it in a new and mocking direction than what was promised. Subsequently, once we knew the film project was going in this very different and misleading direction, we revoked the filmmakers’ media access and declined future interviews.
Regarding the film’s focus on Williamstown, located on the other side of I-75 from the Ark and not visible from the interstate, selectively edited interviews portrayed the false idea that the Ark has had no significant economic impact in the region. While we wish that Williamstown would see the same benefit that nearby cities like Dry Ridge are experiencing, the producers ignored the massive impact the Ark has had on the region and focused on one town that has no major hotels or restaurants and whose downtown is not convenient to the interstate.
This impact has been felt from Dry Ridge, just north of the Ark Encounter, all the way up to the Ohio River, with several new hotels in Florence opening to cater to Ark guests and other travelers.
Filmmakers and other media need only contact the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau, or the Grant County Chamber of Commerce to learn of the phenomenal economic impact generated by tourism to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. This impact has been felt from Dry Ridge, just north of the Ark Encounter, all the way up to the Ohio River, with several new hotels in Florence opening to cater to Ark guests and other travelers. In fact, Northern Kentucky has become the biggest faith-based tourist destination in the USA because of the Ark and the Creation Museum.
On February 24, the Lexington Herald-Leader printed an Ark-related guest column written by one of the people interviewed in the film. It was a highly misleading piece. For example, the columnist noted that the city of Williamstown sold 99 acres to the Ark Encounter for $1. Actually, it was the then Grant County Industrial Development Board that wanted the Ark Encounter to locate in Grant county and offered the 99 acres of surplus county land as an incentive to move the project to Grant county. This was a very poor terrain and was unlikely to ever be developed. The Development Board then sold that land to the Ark Encounter for $1. But as we shared with newspapers after the transaction, it made perfect sense. The acreage that was added to our attraction serves as a buffer for the area surrounding the Ark grounds. We have purchased a total of over 700 acres, and it wasn’t a must to have the extra 99 acres, which weren’t even included in our master plan for development. We pay property taxes on these 99 acres. Ultimately, it was smart on the part of the Board to make this transaction for land that is now producing tax revenue from the Ark.
Let’s turn now to someone in Grant County who has first-hand knowledge not only on how and why the Ark came to be located in her county but also on hard data about its financial impact since opening in 2016. Pat Conrad has worked for Grant County as its finance director and now as county clerk. She wrote the following to the Lexington Herald-Leader to correct the columnist and to (as she emailed us) “get the message across that the Ark is nothing but a positive for Grant County.”
After reading David MacMillan’s commentary on how Ken Ham supposedly “fleeced” a town that gave him his Ark Encounter, I felt compelled to respond. I certainly object to the term “fleeced.” The definition of fleece is “to defraud of money or property; or to swindle.”
To my knowledge, Mr. Ham never promised “the pie in the sky” for businesses to locate in Williamstown. That is not something he could control, even if he wanted to. To blame the Ark Encounter for slow growth in Williamstown is simply not true.
Elsewhere in our county, let me point out the following.
The Ark Encounter opened to the public in 2016. The average amount of annual tourism tax collected from 2010 until 2016 was $96,191.29. The average annual tourism tax collected from 2017 thru 2019 was $232,684.50! The amount collected so far in the 2019-2020 Fiscal year is $252,917.15.
As a direct result of the Ark Encounter, most of the hotels in our county have been at capacity, resulting in tourism dollars and small business income. Those dollars stay in Grant County. In addition, for the year 2019, the Ark Encounter paid $388,677.80 in school taxes and $70,453.00 in library taxes.
The Ark Encounter has continued to build new facilities, as was promised. Mr. MacMillan is certainly entitled to his narrow views of what the Ark Encounter has done for Grant County, but my view is supported by facts and numbers.
—Pat Conrad is the Fiscal Court Clerk of Grant County
Conrad added later in an email to us that the Ark has been a “huge success story,” noting that “most of our hotels have been at capacity and has provided jobs for 300 Grant County residents.”
Finally, to counter two myths about the Ark’s construction and financing that the film regurgitated(and Herald-Leader guest columnists keep repeating), we must point out yet once again that the Ark did not receive millions of dollars in tax dollars to build the attraction. Instead, the Ark Encounter, like other tourist attractions in our state, was approved to receive (and as was legally confirmed by a federal court in 2016) a rebate of sales tax generated at the attraction after the Ark opened. This rebate of new money generated at the Ark (over 90 per cent of our guests are from out of the state) is only a fraction of all the Ark-related revenue the state receives because of the economic impact the Ark has had on area hotels, restaurants, stores, etc. Ultimately, it’s a huge net gain for the Kentucky state treasury.
Second, and contrary to the implication made by both the film and Herald-Leader columnists, Williamstown is not on the hook for a $60 million Ark bond. The bond was issued through―not by―the city. The bond was funded by bondholders, private individuals, not the city.
We thank Pat Conrad, a public official in our county, for setting the record straight about the Ark’s tremendous financial impact on the region.
Most important with the Ark Encounter, we have been greatly encouraged to know of the spiritual impact the Ark Encounter has had on its visitors—over four million of them.
Most important with the Ark Encounter, we have been greatly encouraged to know of the spiritual impact the Ark Encounter has had on its visitors—over four million of them. We praise God that non-Christian guests have been exposed to the gospel message that’s presented throughout the ship and praise him for our Christian visitors as well, who have received solid answers about the account of Noah’s ark and Noah’s flood.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,
This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.