Kentucky’s Faltering Ark Theme Park to Be Shored Up With $62,000,000 in Junk Bonds Issued By Nearby Town

It’s a public secret that the (Noah’s) Ark Encounter, a planned 800-acre theme park in Kentucky that is a twin to the Creation Museum, is having financial difficulties. According to this article on, the Biblical tourist attraction is two years and millions of dollars behind schedule.

The money pinch may soon lessen thanks to a generous $62,000,000 bond issue being offered by Williamstown, Kentucky, population 3,600.

The city, which has already granted the project a 75 percent break in property taxes over 30 years, won’t have to repay the bonds, according to the bond-offering documents. That’s good, experts say, because the bonds are not rated, which makes them speculative, or “junk” bonds. … The taxable bonds are backed by future revenues from the project, which organizers believe will attract more than 1 million visitors in the first year.

An investment professional, Gene Gard, said of the bond issue:

“You could look at it almost as a loan to a family member and not be as concerned about being paid back.”

Investors will lose their money if the Ark Encounter brings in insufficient revenue or goes belly-up, and that risk is hardly imaginary.

The preliminary bond offering documents for the Ark Encounter project list 39 risks for those who buy the bonds, from animals getting sick to possible lawsuits over the constitutionality of a religious project receiving federal and state money.

At least one secularist organization is ready to pounce.

Alex Luchenitser, legal counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., said his group has been following the Ark Encounter project closely, but has not made any legal moves because it’s not clear the project will happen.

“We’re not interested in filing a lawsuit where you might not need one in the first place,” he said. “But we think it raises serious constitutional issues, both on the federal church-state requirement and under the Kentucky Constitution,” which has language prohibiting government aid to religious institutions.

On the plus side for investors, those who buy at least $100,000 worth of bonds

…will receive a lifetime boarding pass to the Ark Encounter, which includes free admission to the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum, with discounts on food and merchandise.

The fact that the Ark project currently seems unlikely to make good on that commitment shouldn’t bother true-blue Christians, who’ve never encountered a Jesus-infused empty promise they didn’t gobble up like manna.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • CanuckAmuck

    Rather appropriate that junk is financing junk.

  • Nick Wride

    Building a “replica” of something that never existed? Like their Aryan featured white dude hanging from a cross who never existed?

    • Rain

      They aren’t dumb enough to try and make an actual replica. The Bible ark is so dumb it would be illegal to build a replica of it. Some guy at AIG was actually creatively interpreting some Bible verses so he could make apologetics for why they should have more than just one window lol.

    • UWIR

      That’s a rather confusing use of the word “featured”.

      • Nick Wride

        OK, how about the white dude with Aryan features?

  • skeptical_inquirer

    Suppose nobody buys? If I were the manager of a retirement or hedge fund, I would beat any subordinate who bought any of it for the portfolio.

    • UWIR

      A pension fund (I assume that’s what you mean by a retirement fund) would probably have rules against buying unrated bonds (even low-rated bonds are often off-limits). That’s why there was so much effort to game the system for to get securities backed by subprimes mortgages to be AAA-rated.

  • nkendall

    Who wants to guess this town has no problem passing a $62M bond for this shit, but rejects even the smallest bond for public schools?

    • Don Gwinn

      Not the same. Theoretically, you gotta pay those school bonds back . . .

    • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      Meanwhile, despite thousands of donors in the wealthiest nation on earth, even with a $62m bond it’s not clear they will have enough money to build this thing.

      Still, the faithful believe that at poor man (over 500-years-old) in pre-bronze age middle east was able to build this thing no problem.

    • mdoc

      No risk as the town will not be obligated on the bonds for the museum. In contrast, they would be obligated on the bonds for the school. The bonds for the museum would be revenue bonds and do not require the backing of the credit of the municipality. They are only paid from revenues generated by the project and there is no recourse if there are insufficient revenues.

  • Jasper

    Did God provide the crane?

    • nkendall

      Well it certainly wasn’t an engineer! Next you’ll tell us doctors can perform surgery.

      • Karen Mitchell

        Engineers don’t provide the cranes; that would be the responsibility of the construction contractor.

  • wvsasha

    There might be a surge of interest – we saw a preview last night for the upcoming movie “Noah”. The movie may provoke enough interest that investors will pick it up for “just in case” the project is the next Apple stock.

  • Kev Manning

    Where do I sign?

  • Don Gwinn

    Pardon my finsncial ignorance: if all the money from these bonds goes to the Raisers of the Last Ark, and all the repayment (if any ) comes from them, what role does Williamstown play at all? Why don’t they sell their own bonds? Or look for investors? Maybe they don’t want to give anyone ownership stakes? Are they hoping enough people will buy the junk bonds if they have a town’s name attached, thinking they’re municipal bonds?

    • koseighty

      By having the city issue the bonds, it lends an air of respectability and people who don’t look too closely will assume they are getting bonds backed by the city — you know, the kind that will be paid back with interest.

      • Don Gwinn

        So, there’s not some legitimate, fairly-innocent technical reason I missed. Probably just hoping to misdirect people.

      • ScottG

        My wife used to work in local government and saw this move once. The way it was explained to me is that it’s usually analyzed and prepared pretty closely – as closely as they would for a large local business making the same pitch. They look at the church as a local “draw” of sorts, keeps residents in the community, off-loads some of the charity work,etc. Rarely is it so lopsided as it is in this story.

        For a town of this size, they actually have a lot going on, but this really looks like a “bet the house” kind of bet for them.

    • Jim Jones

      What rights will the bond holders have? Can they take over the whole crap pile? If 62,000 atheists each put up $1,000 would they own it all? Could they turn it into a museum of rationality?

      • Karen Mitchell

        Wouldn’t that be funny?!

        • Jim Jones

          Of course, rationality probably doesn’t sell as well as Christian crap.

      • UWIR

        The bond holders can only take over the project if the project defaults on the bonds. In other words, not until the project has already failed. If atheists want to put up a museum of rationality, they would be better off just funding one directly. Or, if they really want the irony of having a museum of rationality on the former land of this project, they can just wait for it to fail, and then buy it on pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy.

        • Jim Jones

          > wait for it to fail, and then buy it on pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy.

          That sounds like a plan!

  • Blank D

    Let the Christians pony up the money I give it 2 years max

  • busterggi

    I don’t remember cranes & other heavy equipment being mentioned in the bible.

  • Robert MacDonald

    So this is how you bankrupt a town.

  • the moother

    That’s one of the best double negatives. Evar.

  • Bec

    Aww, are you kidding? AN average Jewish guy and his family built the original ark in a few years with his sons and now they can’t create a fake copy without millions of dollars? Someone is cooking the books methinks and defrauding what should be an incredibly simple project.

    • jdm8

      They probably couldn’t wait around 100 years for a Jewish family to finish it.

    • Mark

      If Noah existed he was not a Jew. According to the bible the first Jew was Abraham.

  • jdm8

    Hey yeah, investors get a lifetime membership in a fictional theme park attraction. How can anyone lose?

    • Karen Mitchell

      And discounts on food and merchandise. You forgot that sweet piece of the deal.

  • Aspieguy

    If the Ark myth is true, why don’t they build this boat and launch it into the open ocean? I suggest they sail it to the southern ocean around Antarctica, some of the roughest seas in the world. This would at least prove that men could build a seaworthy ark so long ago. Is the Ark at this proposed theme park to be built from gopher wood?

    • Feminerd

      Hell, just take it out on the Mediterranean for 40 days. You don’t have to test it against the roughest waters, just test it against the likely area it would have been.

      It will almost certainly sink. Arks are not notoriously seaworthy vessels, especially ones as overloaded as this one is purported to be.

      • Aspieguy

        I still like the Antarctic seas idea. If Ernest Shackleton could sail it in a tiny whaling boat, surely Noah’s Ark could do it. However, Shackleton had 100 times more courage and integrity than Noah.

        • Feminerd

          Well, fictional Noah had a lot of courage. Of course, being fictional, it is hard to compare him to Shackleton who actually existed.

          • Aspieguy

            I’m sure that Sir Ernest didn’t become drunk on wine and pass out naked in his tent.

            • Feminerd

              Note I said nothing about fictional Noah’s integrity! Just his courage.

              The omission was deliberate, but possibly too subtle for the Interwebz.

            • smrnda

              No, I think a move like that would kill you on an antarctic expedition.

    • Evelyn

      As long as they test run it without all of the poor animals on board.

  • AtariBaby

    This project is probably troubled because the locals worry what’s going to happen once the ark is finished.

    • Karen Mitchell

      It sounds like they’re doing anything they can to make this happen. My guess is they think they’ll make a killing in tourist dollars. It’s troubled because it’s a stupid, unsustainable project. It will never turn a profit even if they do get it built.

      • Evelyn

        Basically it’s a really inhumane zoo which will be shut down (rightly so) by animal rights groups or by it’s own plumbing issues. There is a reason modern zoos have sprawling acreages with natural habitats. This is going to be rows of dark, dank cages with 2 possibly incompatible animals in each? Not getting the right lighting, not having their manure and urine properly disposed of. Not getting the right exercise or having the right habitat. It will be the source of the next super-bug that kills us all. Sounds like a living nightmare.

        • The Other Weirdo

          “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!” It’s the start of a zombie apocalypse, I’m sure.

  • Aspieguy

    How can a town of 3600 people even dream of taking 62 million dollars worth of bonds? It’s insane. What morons would even buy such bonds? They may as well flush their money down the toilet.

    • Karen Mitchell

      It only comes to $17, 222,22 per person.

      • UWIR

        I take it you mean $17,222.22?

  • Robster

    So, give old Ken’s circus a hundred grand and you’ll get, amongst others “discounts on food and merchandise”. Discounted food and t-shirts? For that sort of cash, I’d expect wine, crackers WITH seasoning along with a working halo! For free. What a cheapo.

    • Karen Mitchell

      I wondered about that, also. A hundred thousand for – what? – a ten percent discount on whatever junk they’re selling? BFD.

  • Ophis

    “And God said unto Noah, make thee an ark of gopher wood. Here’s 62 million bucks to buy, er, gophers.”

    C’mon Ham. Noah did it for free. The dude in Evan Almighty did it for free. Get a bunch of dudes and some carpentry gear together and get working, you lazy bastard.

  • m6wg4bxw

    What are the chances of the Ohio river flooding? I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but, oh, the ark…

  • garyalan

    I love the gopherwood crane but go to the website for the full picture and check out the background on the right. Is that a paddle wheel in mid-construction? Did they have steam engine technology as well? That explains the crane!

  • Karen Mitchell

    As a drafter, I would LOVE to work in the architectural firm that got
    the contract for this little design project. I’d be laughing my ass off
    every time I had to work on it.

  • Guest

    A more cynical person would call this “government picking winners and losers”, with the more immediate effect being that if/when the museum flops, everyone in this town and the bondholders lose.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Is that a modern construction crane I see there? Why should they need such a thing? I smell shenanigans. Noah built one with just his family, and he didn’t need to issue 62 million in junk bonds to do it. I nfact, he didn’t even care what his neighbours thought.

    • meekinheritance

      But Noah and his family had the support of Yahweh. It should be obvious to everyone that Ken Ham has no such support.

  • ElRay

    The bond ensure the 2nd coming(s). They said the bonds would be paid-off by the Prophets from the park.

  • Gehennah

    62 million from a city of 3200 is a tad bit over 17k per person.

    But I somehow don’t see this going through because a) the museum is faltering and this isn’t going to help it regain traction and b) it violates both the US and Kentucky’s constitution.

  • mdoc

    It might be helpful to explain bonds a little bit. When a municipality issues bonds for an industrial development project, they can be revenue bonds or general obligation bonds. Revenue bonds are paid only through revenue generated by the project, the city’s credit is not at risk and a public vote is not necessary. In contrast, general obligation bonds require public approval and the city is obligated as guarantor on the bonds if the private developer defaults. Needless to say, G.O. bonds for private projects are rare.

  • mdoc

    Did you know that Ham is blaming ObamaCare for the need to resort to bond financing? Ugh.