We already know that the folks behind the Creation Museum are working on “Ark Encounter,” a Noah’s Ark-based theme park. Three years ago, they received approval for more than $40,000,000 in possible tax rebates from the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority. It was based on the assumption that the park would break ground within three years and cost around $173,000,000 in total.
But none of that ever happened. Despite Ken Ham‘s debate against Bill Nye, they couldn’t raise enough money for the park to break ground. Now, they’re going back to the Tourism board to request tax breaks just on the first phase of building. It’s $100,000,000 less than the previous estimate and could still lead to more than $18,000,000 in tax incentives:
Ark Encounter is applying to participate in a program that allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of 25 percent of the sales tax they collect on admission tickets, souvenirs, food and other things over 10 years. For this application the rebates would be as much as $18.25 million.
The incentive program’s rules say that if preliminary approval is granted, the authority would then select a consultant — at Ark Encounter’s expense — to study the project to see if it meets the program’s criteria, including that the project get at least 25 percent of its visitors from out of state after four years and having an overall positive impact on the state budget.
After the consultant’s analysis is complete — a process that takes six to eight weeks — the authority would meet to consider final approval.
Answers in Genesis says this is a mere formality since they got the same approval a few years ago, but Americans United for Separation of Church and State is threatening a lawsuit for good reason: They’re saying the government shouldn’t be giving any rebates to a ministry for a theme park that’s all about evangelizing Christianity:
“It’s a religiously themed project with potentially evangelical overtones, and therefore it would erode the separation of church and state for it to receive any money from the taxpayers,” said Sarah Jones, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Asked if the group plans to take the matter to court, Jones said, “I can’t comment about the possibility of any potential legal action.”
AiG says all of that is irrelevant. This is about tourism, pure and simple, and if they’re bringing in revenue for the state, they should be eligible for a rebate. Politicians, including Governor Steve Beshear, seem to be in agreement with them. (AU is waiting for the construction to actually get underway before filing any potential lawsuit.)
Even if the Tourism board approves the rebates, I have my doubts that AiG will raise enough money for this project to be completed. They’re already issuing junk bonds and interest from the Christian crowd seems to be tapped out.
All this over an homage to a fictional boat that might bring in money but will also destroy brain cells. Even for the tourism board, it shouldn’t be worth the tradeoff.