Here Are Ark Encounter’s Attendance Numbers for the Past Several Months

For more than a year now, it’s been a guessing game for a lot of Ark Encounter’s critics as to what the attendance really is over there.

Anecdotally, when atheists visit (on weekdays or not during the summer), we’ve heard reports that things are relatively empty. When Ken Ham brags about attendance numbers (on weekends and holidays, especially over the summer), he doesn’t give specifics but always acts as if the crowds are overflowing. It’s possible both groups are telling the truth.

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We finally got a hint this past August about actual numbers and it was all thanks to a new ordinance passed by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky.

You may recall that officials called for all ticket-taking attractions in the city to pay a surcharge of $0.50 per ticket as a “Safety Fee” to help pay for fire trucks, police cars, etc. — the very things that make the city a safer place for residents and tourists. While there are two other attractions the fee applies to, Ark Encounter would be the lion’s share of the income, and even if Ken Ham wanted to keep his attendance numbers secret, the city’s Safety Fee amounts were a matter of public record.

That’s why Ham admitted (or bragged, depending on your perspective) in August that he had paid Williamstown more than $70,000 to cover the Safety Fee for the month of July.

Dan Phelps, President of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, has long been a watchdog of all things Ark Encounter, and he recently asked for those Safety Fee public records. This morning, he received a response, giving him the official attendance numbers for Ark Encounter for July, August, September, and October of this year:

July: 142,626 (Safety Fee amount: $71,313.00)
August: 106,161 ($53,080.50)
September: 83,330 ($41,665.00)
October: 93,659 ($46,829.50)

So what do those numbers tell us?

1) Ham was telling the truth that they paid out more than $70,000 in July. Good on him.

2) The attendance figures were solid in the summer and then took a dive when the school year began. I suspect it will continue to go down as the weather gets colder (even in Kentucky) and the school year progresses. I also suspect the numbers are higher now than they will be in the future because after you’ve seen the Ark once, there’s really no need to see it again.

3) Ken Ham once again seems to be overestimating attendance for the coming year.

Just last week, he wrote in a piece for the Courier-Journal that he expected “1.4 million to 2.2 million” visitors over the second year of the Ark’s existence:

… Now that we are in year two, the Ark predicts that since last year was not a “typical” year (e.g., we did not experience a full complement of motor coach tour buses, which has now exploded), 2017-2018 will exceed our first-year numbers and be within the 1.4 million to 2.2 million range estimated by ARG.

To hit 1.4 million, he’s assuming an average of about 117,000 visitors a month. It’s not surprising that he beat that in July, the peak of summer, but he’s not even close in the other months. Can he really make up for the less tourist-y times of the year by hauling in everyone and their Quiverfull families over the traditional vacation months? I have my doubts.

Also keep in mind that Ham once estimated first-year attendance to be over two million. He then continued to lower it until he could claim success.

4) Even if Ham boasts about the attendance, the tourism hasn’t led to a business boom in Williamstown. Remember: Ham has blamed the city for not doing more to draw in people. He never looks in the mirror to realize that all the tax breaks and perks he demanded in exchange for building his Ark there have hurt the city.

Either way, it’s good to have actual numbers to use as a benchmark for the future. Many thanks to Dan for his dogged pursuit of this information.

John Oliver: Ark Encounter is “Economic Development” Gone Horribly Wrong

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver spent the bulk of his show talking about economic development and how cities can go overboard in offering tax breaks to companies in the hopes they’ll get jobs and revenue in return… even though, all too often, those don’t follow.

For example, Oliver mentioned all the cities trying to land the new Amazon headquarters. Newark, New Jersey is offering one of the richest companies in the world $7 billion in potential tax incentives, which is money that won’t be going to local schools even though Amazon can clearly afford it.

But the best example he brought up was Ark Encounter.

Despite a legal fight, Kentucky famously gave Ken Ham‘s organization approximately $18 million over ten years to build the tourist attraction. Answers in Genesis was only allowed to build the boat in the city of Williamstown after they promised the city help with boosting local businesses and lots of jobs.

Oliver focused on how those jobs weren’t exactly for everybody…

… A few years ago, Kentucky took a big swing on this:

A full-size replica of Noah’s Ark is drawing thousands of visitors to Williamstown, Kentucky.

… This is the Ark Encounter, a chapter from Genesis told on a $100 million budget. Four floors of Noah, his family, and beasts, great and small. The project received $18 million in Kentucky tax incentives.

$18 million of tax breaks for a gigantic Ark museum! And I’m not saying that that is inherently a bad idea — I do kind of want to see this thing, especially as its website genuinely has a section devoted to the question: “What about all the manure?”

The answer, apparently, is slatted floors or multiple-level cages. Which is really not a good answer, because you do not want to be the animal on the lowest animal of that ship.

And while the Ark clearly created some jobs, there were some caveats to those positions.

Critics complain of discrimination in hiring: Only Christians, no gays or lesbians, and single people have to sign a chastity pledge.

Oh, come on! Aside from the homophobia, chastity is a pretty weird rule to put in place for a museum that’s pretty much a giant replica of a floating fuck zoo. They weren’t bought in two by two so that everyone would have a swim buddy! They were on that boat to fuuuuuuuck. (To fuuuuuuuuck.)

But the justification for taking a gamble on a gigantic Ark was that it would be a boon to the whole area. And to hear one local official tell it, the economic impact has been underwhelming.

The Ark’s success has not had the ripple effect many hoped it would… Downtown Williamstown, which was expecting increased car and foot traffic, has almost as many empty store fronts as occupied store fronts.

[Reporter:] What’s it meant for downtown Williamstown?

[Grant County Judge Executive Steve Wood:] Nothing. I don’t mean to sound negative in this interview, but there’s nothing here.

Yeah, and that kind of makes sense, because once you’ve spent three hours walking around a wooden boat with sexually frustrated tour guides and haunted by the mental image of a miserable zebra neck-deep in shit because apparently decks were assigned alphabetically, you’re probably gonna skip lunch in town!

Ken Ham has repeatedly claimed on his website that Ark Encounter is good for the economy… even though he won’t publicly release how many visitors are coming each month, and even though he always cites a city that’s not Williamstown when he talks about how hotels are occupied and businesses are doing well, and even though he blames Williamstown for its own economic struggles, and even though Ham fought back when the city wanted to assess a safety fee of $0.50 per ticket to make sure they could accommodate the emergency needs of visitors to the community.

It’s all an expensive reminder to the people of Williamstown that they made a deal with a man who always wanted to take advantage of them. They didn’t listen to the critics. They didn’t care about the scientists. And they didn’t do the math.

But at least they gave us a wonderful segment from John Oliver.

Awful New Ark Encounter Ads Encourage Visitors to “Think Bigger”

Ken Ham just released a new series of commercials for Ark Encounter, mere days after doing the same for the Creation Museum.

I think these new ads can only be categorized as “Arksplaining.”

All three commercials include a character making an offhand comment (like “I never realized how much work goes into taking care of horses”) only to have someone else respond with how much worse Noah had it (“You think that’s hard? Try taking care of thousands of animals at the same time”).

Somehow, this also applies to little girls having a tea party.

The tag line for all of these ads is, “Go ahead. Think bigger.” Which has to be a joke since, as critics have said so many times before, nothing in the Ark is designed to make anyone think critically.

The Ark is meant to spoon-feed answers to gullible visitors in order to stop them from asking tough questions.

Want to think bigger? Read a science book. Go to an actual museum. Spend a few minutes on Wikipedia. All of that is more worthwhile than visiting these Kentucky attractions.

Ark Encounter Is Now Selling Rainbow Umbrellas (Take THAT, Gay People)

Last year, Creationist Ken Ham announced that Ark Encounter would be permanently lit up in colors at night. It was his attempt to “take the rainbow back” from those damn LGBTQ people.

He announced today that the Ark’s gift shop would start selling rainbow umbrellas. Because gay people can’t have everything, y’all.

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This… is not the best way to convince people you’re against LGBTQ rights.

So, to recap, Ken Ham thinks LGBTQ are sinning so hard that he wants to stick it to them by lighting up Ark Encounter in different colors and selling a rainbow umbrella. He believes rainbows are a symbol of a Godly act of genocide, and we should all start worshiping the Christian prophet who has two dads.

I don’t think he’s thought this one through…

Two Atheists Visited Ark Encounter and This Is What They Saw Inside

Seth Andrews recently visited Ark Encounter with fellow atheist Matt Dillahunty, and he brought along a video camera and a giant backpack full of sarcasm. As is so often the case, the place was fairly empty when they went.

Do yourself a favor and watch their experience. If nothing else, you’ll save yourself a $40 entry fee + $2.40 in sales tax + $0.50 for the safety fee + $10 for parking.

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I’ll take issue with one thing Seth said. He points out near the end that there are better uses for $100 million than this boat. I would agree. Still, I’m not a fan of the argument that says people who spend money in one way are wrong or immoral because they could’ve done something more noble with it. By that logic, just about everything optional we spend money on can and should be donated to a greater cause. If we’re making that criticism of Ham, we ought to make it of everybody, everywhere. But we don’t. We seem to only say it about people we disagree with. (Atheists raised plenty of money to hold two Reason Rallies in Washington D.C. over the past several years, but I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about criticism from Christians if they said the money should’ve been donated to charity instead.)

Ham fundraised for this project because he felt this was a way to spread his faith. We can criticize the junk bonds he sold. We can criticize the way he screwed over the local taxpayers to get sweetheart deals. We can criticize the bad “science” inside the boat. We can criticize the effect this boat may have on the minds of young people. But I have no doubt about Ken Ham‘s intentions, and it doesn’t bother me that he raised and borrowed money — even an obscene amount of it — for his pet project.

(via TheThinkingAtheist)

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