The Ark Encounter will not qualify for $18 million in tax rebates

The Ark Encounter will not qualify for $18 million in tax rebates January 26, 2016

Photo: Ark Encounter, LLC

Monday’s Federal Court ruling that ordered the Commonwealth of Kentucky to move forward with the state’s Tourism Development Program application is being heralded by Ken Ham has a huge win, not only for religious freedom, in his opinion, but also for his park which he says is now eligible for the $18 million tax incentive rebate.

The truth is, however, the Ark Encounter will not qualify for the full $18 million based on the visitor report issued by Hunden Strategic Partners.

When the Ark Encounter filed their request for an $18 million tax incentive two years ago they had to submit to a review by Hunden Strategic Partners in Chicago to review and evaluate the parks projected attendance to qualify for such subsidies.

According to the Courier-Journal,

The study was commissioned by the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet as part of its review of Ark Encounter’s application for up to $18.25 million in state tax incentives.

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.

Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society got hold of the report through the Freedom of Information Act and emailed it over to me.

The Ark Encounter estimated that they would see 1.2 to 2 million visitors per year. However, Hunden estimated in the first year the park would receive roughly 325,000, with a peak attendance in the third year around 425,000, declining to 275,000 after that.

The Ark Encounter estimates, as seen below, come from a report the park commissioned on its own from America’s Research Group (ARG). ARG is owned and operated by Britt Beemer, a man who has co-authored multiple books with Ken Ham.

 Based on an extensive independent feasibility study conducted by America’s Research Group, we expect over 1,600,000 guests our first year.

This same myth was also even more greatly exaggerated by Ken Ham who wrote on his website:

… the full-size Noah’s Ark, when it opens in 2016, is estimated to attract up to 2 million visitors a year

That is a rather large discrepancy and there is little reason to believe Ark Encounter officials believed the information they passed on to state officials. They even went as far as to predict an increase in museum attendance, an attraction that has never reached its own attendance goals.

According to a press release by the Kentucky Secular Society, the Hunden report looked at 2 scenarios,

Scenario A assumes a “mainstream approach to the attraction”, and Scenario B assumes a “more religious-based approach that may represent a specific viewpoint more associated with the Creation Museum”. Numerous individuals with Answers in Genesis (the parent company of Ark Encounter) have publicly stated that the theme of Ark Encounter will be like that of the Creation Museum, even referring to the ark as an “Evangelical Ark.”

According to the press release:

Projections in Scenario B included 325,000 the first year, peaking to 425,00 the third year, and plateauing at 275,000 by year 10. Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis have publicly proclaimed attendance projections of 1.2 to 2 million per year. However, these projection figures were for the 2010 proposal, not the 2014 proposal. The 2010 proposal was for a $172 million project and was a multi-day attraction, while the 2014 proposal was for a $73 million project that consisted mainly of Noah’s Ark. More importantly, the group hired by Answers in Genesis to project attendance, America’s Research Group, has several conflicts of interest. The president of America’s Research Group is Britt Beemer, who is also a co-author with Ken Ham on the book Already Gone. Furthermore, research by Beemer and America’s Research Group is featured in Already Compromised, another book authored by Ken Ham. The Hunden Report contains the only non-biased attendance projections for the 2014 project.

The Hunden report also reveals a very small net fiscal impact of only $4.9 million when compared to the $18.25 million cost of the tax incentives.

Finally, the Hunden report notes a steady decline in attendance at the Creation Museum. The exact numbers were redacted since they could be used by Creation Museum competitors. However, the report states “…each year the attendance figures have decreased… This peak, the decline, is typical for museums, aquariums, and other attractions. The figures for 2014, however, suggests much lower attendance for the full year, as opposed to a plateauing of attendance.” It should be noted that the large drop in attendance at the Creation Museum occurred after the February 4, 2014, debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

“The Hunden Report adds more evidence that the Commonwealth of Kentucky made the correct decision in rejecting the Ark Encounter application for tax incentives,” commented Ed Hensley, treasurer of the Kentucky Secular Society and co-organizer of Freedom From Religion Foundation, Kentucky Chapter. “Ken Ham, Ark Encounter, and Answers in Genesis are currently threatening to sue the Commonwealth for the right to have tax-supported religious discrimination in employment. We should consider the contrasting claims of the Hunden report while evaluating their threats.”

It would seem the Ark Encounter officials knew they could not carry the attendance numbers they needed and this is why they originally hired a firm with direct ties to Ken Ham who would be more than willing to overestimate the attendance of the park in order to help increase the likelihood of a better tax rebate in order to help the parks construction reach completion.

Given these numbers, it seems the park would not have been granted the full $18 million tax incentives. If they managed to qualify at all after the application process they would likely be approved for a much smaller rebate amount.

Monday’s ruling is not only a loss of religious freedom and ignores a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that allows states to refuse religious organizations from participating in state-funded programs, it is a loss for the Kentucky taxpayers.

In a state where the governor is ending the Affordable Care Act extension, where schools are struggling to pay their bills and keep up with modern times, they want to take taxpayer money and give it back to people like Ken Ham who are discriminating against its own citizens when hiring park employees. Discrimination that is now being sanctioned by a Federal Court and funded by taxpayer money.

Large portions of this post have been previously published.

[Image: Ark Encounter]

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