Because many newspapers and bloggers are either declaring or implying that the Ark Encounter will be taking tax-payer money and will be a drain on Kentucky’s state treasury, we have been submitting guest columns to several newspapers and websites to tell the real story. Here is one sample, which appeared in Kentucky’s largest newspaper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, on January 24.
The Courier-Journal seems determined to move the Ark Encounter out of state even before construction begins. In its latest two broadsides against the full-size Noah's Ark, the paper quoted theme park representatives who are skeptical about its success, and Tuesday's editorial suggested that the project is a “white elephant.” These opinions are not based on any relevant studies or hard data.
Even if the Ark fails to meet projections, there is no risk to the state. Contrary to what The Courier-Journal has implied, taxpayers will not help pay for the construction and operation of the Ark. The only people to pay taxes related to operating the Ark will be the visitors through sales tax paid at the attraction (e.g., on tickets and food). The state will rebate a portion of that sales tax to the Ark Encounter LLC based on meeting attendance-performance marks. The incentives are not a grant from Kentucky.
Of course, the state wouldn't collect any sales tax from the Ark Encounter if it were never built. Moreover, if the Ark moves out of state, Kentucky will be out hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax and other revenue, along with several thousand jobs.
The Courier-Journal unfairly chided Gov. Steve Beshear for not reading our feasibility study before announcing the project. Reviewing the massive study was not essential because he knew that the state would need to commission its own study. Our ARG-commissioned study simply got the state's attention. The fact that the governor did not read our feasibility study is immaterial.
Why is The Courier-Journal even concerned with attendance? If the attraction does not meet its projected figures, the state government and its citizens are not impacted—except positively, in that the attraction will still produce sales tax to benefit Kentucky and its citizens regardless of attendance. What is the “investigative” article supposedly investigating? If the taxpayers and state government are not at risk, then who does the paper need to alert? The investors know the risks.
It's very possible the Ark will attract 1.6 million people a year. Its sister project, our Creation Museum—also called a “white elephant” years ago by detractors, as we noted in a 2007 Web posting—exceeded its expected attendance. The same talented team that designed the museum is returning for the Ark Encounter. Also, the same group, ARG, that was commissioned to estimate Ark Encounter attendance is the one that accurately forecast the museum's first-year attendance—it projected 400,000, and 404,000 people visited.
The extensive feasibility study we commissioned indicated that interest in the Ark crosses religious lines (including those who are irreligious). Geography will also play a role. Almost two-thirds of Americans live within a day's drive of the Ark site. In addition, the 2009 CBS “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair online poll revealed that the archaeological discovery people most wanted to be made is Noah's Ark (at 43 percent). Interest nationwide in a full-size, all-wood Ark is substantial.
We have no reason to inflate estimated numbers of Ark visitors. We don't want to be wasteful and buy more land than is necessary. If anything, we want to be conservative and save money.
Why does the paper continue to misrepresent the Ark Encounter at a time when the state could benefit from hundreds of millions of tourism dollars and several thousand jobs? The Courier-Journal is more concerned about the religious aspects of the Ark than it is about 10 percent unemployment and revenue for needed services.
Answers in Genesis knows that newspapers are struggling in our electronic age and feel the pressure to create controversy and keep up their circulations. With this paper, fairness and telling the whole story have been lost in the coverage of the Ark Encounter.
Mark Looy, CCO
Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum
Petersburg, Ky. 41080