A controversial Noah’s ark attraction has opened in Williamstown, Kentucky, despite numerous setbacks and an ongoing debate about the replica’s authenticity. For $40 per ticket, guests will have an opportunity to tour the seven-story structure, which is the length of 1.5 football fields. The ticket price includes admission to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, which is also owned by Answers in Genesis.
Ark Encounter took a total of six years to complete and cost an estimated $100 million. Although it is expected to boost the local economy, with more than 300 jobs and an estimated 2 million guests each year, the cost of building the replica remains a point of heated controversy.
In addition to providing the owners with free land, the city of Williamstown donated $62 million in bonds to Answers in Genesis and promised the company $18 million in tax breaks. Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner also confirmed the city’s electricity and water systems were upgraded to accommodate the Noah’s Ark attraction.
Critics argue that the government should not invest in religious-based attractions. They are specifically concerned that the government is giving tax breaks to a company that only hires Christians.
Although the issue was taken all the way to a federal court, Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled Answers in Genesis is entitled to the tax breaks because Ark Encounter is a qualifying tourist attraction. He also determined the company has a right to hire employees based on their religious beliefs.
In addition to the tax breaks extended under Kentucky’s tourist attraction law, Ark Encounter will receive other exemptions because, as explained by NPR, “Answers in Genesis is considered a tax-exempt church.”
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Tri-State Freethinkers spokesman Jim Helton said the tax breaks and other incentives are “a clear violation if separating church and state.” In his opinion, the Noah’s Ark replica is a disservice to the community because it is “raising scientifically illiterate children and lying to them about science.”
Although the animals inside the structure, which include dinosaurs and a unicorn, are fake, a representative confirmed there is a zoo located outside the ark, where guests will have an opportunity to view and interact with several real animals including camels, donkeys, and kangaroos. Telegraph reports the site also has a zip-line attraction and a restaurant.
The ark itself is now complete and open to the public. However, Answers in Genesis plans to spend as much as $50 million to expand the attraction to include replicas of the Tower of Babel and a walled city.
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Although Answers in Genesis is anticipating $4 billion in revenue by 2026, some local residents remain skeptical.
Williamstown attorney Bill Adkins said the town of 4,000 was devastated during the recession, and he is unsure whether the Ark Encounter will generate enough revenue to turn the town around.
Over the last six years, Answers in Genesis promised an influx of hotels and restaurants to the small town. However, Adkins said it has not come to fruition at this time. In his opinion, “people are waiting to invest because they want to see if after the flash and bang of the opening, what happens next.”
Answers in Genesis representatives point to the ongoing success of their Creation Museum, which is also geared toward Christians and attracts an estimated 300,000 guests each year. The representatives said the popularity of the Creation Museum exceeded expectations but denied providing actual proof of the attraction’s financial success.
During the first 40 days (and nights) of operation, the Noah’s Ark replica will be open from 9:00 a.m. to midnight. Beginning August 16, Ark Encounter will revert to traditional business hours.
[Image via Photostockham/Shutterstock]