Ken Ham attempts to dispute the Ark Encounter attendance study

Ken Ham attempts to dispute the Ark Encounter attendance study January 23, 2015
Photo: Creation Museum
Photo: Creation Museum

Well we all knew this was coming.

Ken Ham has taken to the Answers in Genesis website to dispute “atheist propaganda” against the Ark Encounter and the new report released this week by Hunden Strategic Partners which estimated that the park would receive around 325,000 visitors in its first year, compared to the predictions made by AiG in which they claimed 1.2 million.

The first bit of misleading information Ham replies to a paragraph in the Lexington Herald-Leader which reads,

Ken Ham, president and founder of Answers in Genesis, the parent company of the Creation Museum and Ark Encounter, disputes the numbers in the report by Hunden Strategic Partners of Chicago, Ill.

Instead, he prefers to rely on the 2011 study done by America’s Research Group, which is run by Britt Beemer, a co-author with Ham on one of his books. That study predicted 1.2 million visitors in the park’s first year.

Ham takes issue with this, mostly because they point out one very obvious conflict of interest. That Britt Beemer co-authored a book with Ham and was then asked to lead the study to help the park land a tax incentive deal.

Ham says,

What opponents fail to mention is that the reason the ARG executive is listed as a coauthor on that book is because ARG was hired by the book’s publisher to conduct research for the book (i.e., a study concerning why young people were leaving the church). This simple fact is clear for anyone who reviews the book, but the fact is inconvenient for a reporter who is aiming to make an implication that isn’t true. (As discussed below, ARG is a highly credible research organization with an extraordinary track record verifying its carefully conducted consumer research.)

Now there are two things to look at here.

First, this is in fact a major conflict of interest. Ham has a long working relationship and seemingly a personal relationship to the extent he would put the man who runs the corporations name on his book. If they did research for a book, he would cite that research inside the book, not put the owners name on the cover. So the excuse Ham is using does not add up.

Second, is ARG actually highly credible? Well, maybe in the field they actually do research in. You see, the focus on retail marketing strategies and nowhere on their site do they even allude to the fact they offer such a massive service as surveying potential theme park visitors or the economic impact of a tourism attraction, in fact this is their whole list of services:

  • Market overviews
    • Brand images
    • Shopping patterns
    • Channel preferences
  • Customer perceptions
    • Current views, ratings, image
    • Likes and dislikes
    • Loyalty and outlook
  • Competitive analysis
    • Real vs. Perceived
    • Competitive customers’ characteristics/profile
    • Offensive/Defensive strategies
  • Merchandising techniques
  • Product reviews
  • Marketing strategies
  • Targeted advertising

 Yet Hunden Strategic, right on the main page of their website lets you know exactly what they do for a living,

Whether you represent a public agency, tourism bureau, lending institution or a private developer, Hunden Strategic Partners provides you confidence and results via the integrity of our feasibility studies, economic and fiscal impact analyses, development strategy, solicitation processes, and related services.

This is why the State of Kentucky hired Hunden, this is their business and this is what they do.

ARG lists under recent research:

Walmart vs. Dollar Stores
Home Depot & Lowe’s
Department Stores
Back-to-School
Credit Card Spending
Promotional Activity
Drugstores
Sporting Goods
Footwear
Electronics
Auto Parts
Gas Prices

Hard hitting stuff. Walmart vs. Dollar Stores. They don’t even boast the massive theme park project they worked on.

So no, no one is going to take the ARG report seriously, they are not only under qualified to conduct such a study, but they have direct personal ties with AiG and Ken Ham and have every reason to pad the results. No one wants to upset their friends.

After blaming the Freedom From Religion Foundation for misusing the Hunden report, Ham then moves on to his first imagined lie by atheists,

[…] Whether the total number of visitors in the first year of the park is a half million or two million, that figure has no bearing on the eligibility of the project for the State’s tax rebate program. (If the total visitor numbers are lower, that simply means that AiG would eventually receive less dollars in a rebate of the brand new sales tax money its park generates.)

Second, reading the Hunden Report in its full and proper context shows there are many important points the atheists and secular media have chosen to omit. For example, consider the following quotes directly from the Hunden Report:

1. SUMMARY OF FINDINGS

The Project meets the Definition of a Tourism Development . . . .

The Project meets the definition of a “Tourism Attraction Project” as noted by the definitions in KRS 148.851. . . . .

Based on the items the Project qualifies as an Entertainment Facility . . . .

Hunden Strategic Partners Conclusion . . . As shown, the Project in both scenarios meets all criteria identified by the Kentucky Tourism and Development Act.

But this is not being disputed at all. The article by Kentucky’s Courier-Journal clearly states,

Although the project is smaller and would attract fewer visitors the previously estimated, the consultant concluded the project met the state requirement of having an economic benefit qualifying to the state incentives.

And no one has disputed that the numbers themselves are not a disqualifying factor, at face value. Though the state could easily decide not to grant it because of the minuscule attendance numbers.

We will never know though because the park already lost the money requested when they decided to break federal employment laws, something Ham still denies, even writing in this piece,

It is obvious that AiG was not denied participation because its project failed to meet the state’s objective criteria. Rather, as we have been saying all along, we were denied the rebate of a portion of our future sales taxes because state officials dislike the message of our park—a blatant example of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by the state.

This is just another lie in the web of lies Ham has created around this park. The state clearly said it was not the message but the employee discrimination that led to the lost tax incentives. No one has ever questioned if a Noah’s Ark theme park was religiously motivated. However when you stop calling it a theme park and refer to it only as a ministry and then require employees sign statements of faith, you quickly cross the line from a religious themed park to a religious organization attempting to defraud the state of tax money while demanding religious privilege.

Ham then shares with us a letter he sent to “the media” about the anti-ark articles going around in which he tries to attack the statements made by Ed Hensley of FFRF and Kentucky Secular Society, here are some of the highlights of the letter.

We stand solidly by the America’s Research Group report and have been using its numbers to build our business operating models. The ARG study is an exhaustive nationwide report that was provided to Hunden as part of its study. It is ridiculous to assume that ARG would put its excellent business reputation on the line by fabricating attendance numbers for the Ark Encounter, as Mr. Hensley seems to imply.

Of course you stand by it, your friend wrote it and it greatly favors you.

He [Hensley] is also misinformed about the scope of the ARG study. It focused on a full-size Ark only, not the full phased Ark Encounter that was presented in 2011. The ARG validation in 2013 was also focused on just the Ark, not the full-phased park.

Oh, so wait, now the numbers from ARG may be wrong? Since now AiG is not able to build the full project the numbers ARG had are not fully correct, but of course AiG didn’t commission a new report with more accurate numbers, they still submitted the overblown report and left those numbers up on their website when asking for donations.

Even using the Hunden Report’s very conservative projections, the positive economic impact of the Ark Encounter to the state of Kentucky is actually a $15.9 million net gain. Hunden removed $11 million from the state’s net gain because of proposed state expenses to improve KY Highway 36. The state pulled that money from its budget and requested funds from a federal allocation. So its net gain is a very healthy $15.9 million after its rebate to the Ark Encounter.

Interesting, so Ham is now informing us the Highway roadwork needed to be done will be paid for federally? I didn’t realize the federal government fixed roads up for Noah’s Ark theme parks. So it looks like we have another interesting thing to research and that is why are federal tax payers footing the bill to improve roads to this genocidal themed park.

So here we are. Yet another puff piece by Ken Ham as he continues to struggle to find ways to dig himself out of the massive hole he has dug. He is stuck because he seems to have created a very intricate web of lies that he cannot find a way out of.

325,000 visitors hardly seems like enough to keep a park of this size open and with no government refunds to fall back on for phase two of the project it seems that the endless boasting of a 2016 opening date may just be another string in that web he has created.

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