A Summary of Ark Park Financial Gimmicks

It’s old news to our regular readers, but there’s been a lot of press coverage lately about the opening of Ark Encounter, the religious theme park being built by Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the world’s holiest man who knows more about religion and science than everyone else. He’s the Australian entrepreneur who has become the ayatollah of Appalachia, famed not only for his creationist ministry, Answers in Genesis (AIG), but also for the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.

The one thing that is always absent from the news — and from ol’ Hambo’s website — is a report of ticket sales. We must conclude from Hambo’s silence on the subject that an embarrassing number of tickets remain unsold, even for the grand opening day scheduled for 07 July — which is only two weeks away.

There’s a long article about Hambo and his ark in the Cincinnati Enquirer of Cincinnati, Ohio, just across the border from Northern Kentucky where Ken Ham’s creationist empire is located. This is the headline: Who pays for the new ark? Taxpayers Help. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

Just how do you pay for one of the world’s most famous and largest wooden boats? No one knows just how Noah did it for the original ark, for the Bible isn’t clear on how he was able to construct what must have been an engineering marvel at the time, much less pay for it. When it comes to the $92 million replica being erected in a Kentucky field about 40 miles south of Cincinnati, organizers paved a somewhat clearer path. The project received junk bond rating status, suffered through a back-and-forth with state officials over promised tax incentives, and even required the intervention of a federal judge to let those tax breaks continue.

What follows is a long narrative of the financial maneuvers that ol’ Hambo used. It’s an interesting summary of material we’ve discussed in the past:

[AIG first] used a series of bond issues and donations to raise $60 million of the money necessary to build the 510-foot long attraction. But the group also landed a series of local and state tax incentives worth $80 million over 20 years. That leveraged Answers in Genesis’s foray into the bond market in the first place, experts say. And the bonds themselves? If anything forces the ark to shut down, they’re only as valuable as the paper they are printed on, bond market experts say.

That’s because they are not guaranteed the way most so-called “church bonds” are, meaning the owners of the bonds absorb any losses and Answers in Genesis holds little risk. The city of Williamstown, which issued the debt as municipal bonds on behalf of the ministry and the ark project, also did not guarantee them. That leaves the project’s investors on their own.

No problem. Those who bought Hambo’s bonds have faith. Let’s read on:

The rest of the $92 million was raised from private donations. That’s the case even though the Ark Encounter will be run as a for-profit subsidiary of the nonprofit Crosswater Canyon LLC, which is a subsidiary of Answers in Genesis.

Yeah, but it’s a worthy cause. The news article continues:

The ark’s for-profit status means the attraction will need to pay taxes. Through deals with state and local governments, however, those taxes will be substantially lower than a standard tax bill would be.

Isn’t that nice? Here’s more:

In 2014, the state of Kentucky agreed the ark project met the requirements to receive sales tax incentives under its tourism incentive program, which has helped other attractions including several bourbon distilleries. That put the ark in line to receive a state sales taxes rebate worth $18.25 million over 10 years.

But it almost didn’t happen. Last year, the previous Democratic state administration restricted the offer, saying the public’s money should not be used for a religious purpose. The state argued Answers in Genesis’s plan to require a “statement of faith” from all new ark employees would be discriminatory.

Answers in Genesis then sued in federal court and won. U.S. District Court Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove ruled in January that excluding the ark project from the incentive program “is a violation of AiG’s rights under the First Amendment to the federal Constitution.”

Everybody gets that wrong. Hambo claims he won in court and the press always goes along, but it didn’t happen that way. As we reported in Ken Ham’s Ark Wins First Round in Court, after the state decided not to give AIG the sales tax rebates, Hambo went to court and got a preliminary injunction against the state’s freezing him out of the sales tax rebate program. The case was in its very early stages. They weren’t even close to having a trial. But at that point Governor Matt Bevin got involved and decided that the state wouldn’t contest the injunction, and wouldn’t take any further action against the tax rebate scheme. So AIG won, but it was a political, not a judicial victory. Nevertheless, Hambo — and the press — routinely describe the litigation as if it were a landmark court decision in Hambo’s favor.

The Cincinnati Enquirer discusses other goodies Hambo has received:

The state is also building a new ramp off of Interstate 75 for the park in the next year at a cost of $10 million. It did the same thing in 2006 for the Kentucky Speedway one county over.

Fair enough. Traffic is traffic. Another excerpt:

While the state incentives have gotten most of the attention, most of the public finance involvement for the ark has come on the local level. Not only did Williamstown front the bond sale, but the city and county agreed to create a tax incentive district for the area of the ark and surrounding properties. That will create more than $60 million in new tax savings over 30 years, or about the same amount that Answers in Genesis is borrowing through the bond issues.

This is great entrepreneurship! One last excerpt:

In the end, Ham says Answers in Genesis followed all the rules, and feels “blessed” to have been able to pay for the new ark park, even as those who oppose the financing deal won’t give up their protests.

The news story doesn’t mention it, but Governor Bevin has done other favors for Hambo — see Ken Ham’s Ark Will Get State Tax Funds. Additional goodies Hambo has received are mentioned here: Newsweek Story on Hambo’s Ark.

This is one of those rare times when we find ourselves in agreement with ol’ Hambo. He has indeed been blessed — at least so far. But we’re still waiting for news about ticket sales. How many droolers will buy tickets and pay for parking to visit the ark? Why would anyone go out of his way to see the thing? There will be many of them, of course, at least at first, but will it be enough to make the whole thing profitable? We shall see.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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10 responses to “A Summary of Ark Park Financial Gimmicks

  1. So the the ark-park is like the bourbon distilleries, although not as useful. I believe I’ll have a drink.

  2. Charles Deetz ;)

    They changed their ticket system so I can’t enter 8000 tickets for opening day and find out if they are sold yet. Darn.

  3. Thanks for the update SC. Maddening, all that money could have been better spent on real education. It’s also maddening that Hambo and others refer to it as a “replica”. The biblical description isn’t very detailed so how does he know its a “replica”? Why would any one except perhaps the wettest droolers want to spend good $$ to see a fake that wasn’t built with technology available to the fictitious Noah, doesn’t have live animals, and isn’t floating on water (drool)? Maybe that’s why there’s no news on ticket sales. People aren’t buying. Unless, of course, we’re wrong and Hambo’s printing more in advance of a bragging announcement.

  4. Yes, I think I hear the rumble of many, many tiny rats’ feet jumping ship already. Fortunately the new highway exit will facilitate their quick exodus.

  5. docbill1351

    I give it a year or less. Look at what you get for your money: a whole lot of nothing.

    Remember, the original concept consisted of the Ark, a Tower of Babble, the Seven Plagues of Egypt ride (a real crowd pleaser, that river of blood!), a 1st century village with costumed actors – gift shops and restaurants, and a petting zoo. Even the original concept was a far, far cry from a Six Flags or even the Bible World or whatever in Florida. I mean, it was just Dullsville.

    The Plagues ride looked less exciting than Mr. Toad at Disneyland, just bucket cars cruising through dark (and I mean all kinds of dark) dioramas – boils and frogs and blood, oh my!

    On July 7th what you get for you $$$? Fake boat, zip line and a pen of mangy animals – camel, yak, kangaroo and goat.

    You got to hand it to Ol’ Hambo, though, he don’t need no sheep to do some mighty fine fleecing! However, only the dumbest of the dumbest of sheep will return to this disaster of Biblical proportions! Give it a year, then Hambo be reading from Chapter 11 of the Book of Bankruptcy.

  6. Talking about Ark Park finances, Ham apparently continues to accept donations. The stated “goal” has steadily increased from $ 24.5 million via $ 29.5 million to the “new goal” of $ 33.5 million. Essentially the goalposts seemed to move every time there was a danger that the goal could actually be reached. Yet during June, as the Ark Hype reached its all-time high, even the “new goal” has actually been EXCEEDED.

    So this is obviously the moment when Ken Ham says, “Thank you very much for your contributions; we now have all that we need, you don’t have to send any more money …”

    … except he doesn’t say that, of course.

    According to the Good Book, Moses did say something to that effect when the Israelites had made all the contributions needed to build the tabernacle (Exodus 36:5,6), but Ham isn’t going to say it. Of course not.

    The latest version is that you can now have the utter joy of donating your hard-earned money to “support the many start-up costs as the Ark opens to the public. Thank you!”:

    Nope: No shame a–aa-aaat all!

  7. A news story promo for Ham’s ark. Interestingly, if you look at the ark, notice what appears to be the bow of the boat, that it is of a modern architecture shape to slip through the tremendous seas. I don’t suspect noah had any such idea regarding the boat’s streamlined performance. Ham surely took great liberties in his design of the imaginary ark. Notice to, when asked how much it costs to build, somehow he flips out $100 million dollars! Where did that figure come from?
    Massive Full-Scale Version of Noah’s Ark Comes to Life in Kentucky

  8. Stephen Kennedy

    As Charles Deetz mentioned above, AIG has changed its web ticket sales site so you can not go in and order 1,000 tickets for opening day and get a reply that they can accommodate that and all you have to do is pay $40,000 plus tax (non-refundable) with your credit card and you would have 1,000 tickets for July 7. They probably realized that there were a lot of us requesting tickets to see if they are available and then not completing the transaction and thereby telling anybody who inquires that they still have plenty of unsold tickets available.

    Add to this the fact that Hambo still keeps saying on his blog that people can still get tickets for opening day and has said nothing about any days being sold out and you get the impression that not too many people have purchased tickets to see the ark park. Hambo even occasionally sends out pleas for prayers for the success of the ark park. These people are serious when they ask for prayers since they really believe prayers have miraculous powers.

    As was noted above, why would anybody drive for hours, pay $40 plus $10 for parking to see a big wooden building? Hambo must be sweating.

  9. siluriantrilobite

    I just drove by I-75 exit 154, where the Ark Park is located. There are no commercial signs on the interstate advertising the Ark, nor are there any “official” government signs (in KY tourist attractions often have large brown signs near interstate exits). After I finish fossil collecting nearer Cincinnati, I will see if there is any new construction of hotels, restaurants, or other businesses near the Ark. I suspect not.

    Sent from my iPad

  10. Believe that you can walk on water. Believe that you can perform miracles. Believe that God will intervene. It does not matter. Reality always intervenes. You cannot run, you cannot hide, you cannot lie. Reality just exists and will punch you in the nose if you choose to try and ignore it.