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After engaging in a quick bit of schadenfreude over the probable failure of the fundamentalist Answers in Genesis (AiG) ministry's - yes, they're the same organization who gave us the Creation Museum - to keep its very-behind-schedule "Ark Encounter" theme park from sinking, the more settled side of me started thinking.

The constitutionality of using public financing to promote religious dogma aside, how does something like this get such strong support on little more than overly optimistic promises of future benefits?

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced the kickoff of the project back in 2010, providing the following estimates of what it means for tiny Williamstown and the rest of Kentucky:

The project is expected to create more than 900 full- and part-time jobs after its completion and attract 1.6 million visitors in the first year, with the number increasing after five years.

Beshear said the park could have a $214 million economic impact in the first year and bring $250 million into the state by the fifth year.

Looks good, right?

Here's why those estimates were probably too optimistic.

Since it hasn't been built yet, it's tough for anyone to say exactly how attendance will pan out, but there's a couple of more recent examples indicating the numbers Governor Beshear used in 2010 are overblown.

First up are the attendance numbers for the Kentucky Kingdom amusement park, which at its peak in 1998-99 never got over 1.4 million visitors. Second are the not-so-strong attendance numbers from AiG's aforementioned Creation Museum; reported attendance in 2012 was 254,074, lowest in four years of steady decline, despite additions to the museum, with a corresponding drop in revenue.

On its 2011 federal income tax return, Answers in Genesis reported a 5 percent drop in museum revenue to $5.1 million. Worse, AIG slumped to its first-ever financial loss -” $540,218. As of deadline for CityBeat'™s print edition, AIG hadn'™t provided financial results for fiscal 2012, which ended June 30.
...continued below the fold...

But...900 jobs when completed, right? Given its three-year delay, the finished park is only concept drawings at this time, accessed by clicking "Future Phases" link from the Ark Encounter's home page. Of the namesake Ark attraction itself,

It was originally slated for completion this spring, when $37 million worth of tax breaks offered by the state are set to expire. Now, with construction still not started on Ark Encounter, the earliest it could be finished is 2016, AIG says.
If the planned expansion materializes, it won't be until some unknown point in the future and employment will be mainly low-wage menial service jobs consistent with other theme parks. Given this, the estimation of economic impact is suspect. Admittedly, some of this is hindsight given Beshear's announcement was in 2010, but enough information was there to raise some warning flags. Probably the most telling flag was ignored:
If the Ark Park is such a good deal, why didn'™t any other state want it? Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio already turned down versions of the park, but not Kentucky.
It's at this point that the political environment comes into play. Despite its substantial representation of Democratic politicians, Kentucky is at best purple in its overall complexion. If Democrats want to maintain their representation (even improve upon it, given the upcoming Senate race between Alison Lundergan Grimes and probably Mitch McConnell) they need to win outside of Louisville. This means courting more conservative voters in smaller districts.
Beshear doesn'™t care about the numbers or Louisville. He cares how the Ark Experience plays in Owensboro, Somerset, Corbin, Covington and Pikeville.

Beshear is using the Ark deal to drive a wedge between David Williams'™ religious base in eastern, northern and western Kentucky. We can hear the governor now: "œYeah, I know I have a big-city Jewish mayor (sort of) running with me, but I want to show you all with this Ark Park how I'™m one of you." (Wink, wink.)

As far as politics goes, it'™s a pretty interesting development, one that could turn Beshear into a two-term governor. Louisville'™s a gimme, so we'™re not getting squat.

By appealing to the religious preferences of ultra-conservative voters outside the big metros, Beshear is vying to block any attempt by Williams to take those voters for granted. That forces Williams to put resources into courting voters who should already be firmly planted in his camp, and that wastes Williams'™ time and money.

This sort of gamesmanship wastes money budgeted for infrastructure that could be spent elsewhere and explains why the Ark Encounter project received more favorable consideration from the state than the once-successful Kentucky Kingdom theme park. From  2011:
A few months ago, Ed Hart, Kentucky Kingdom entrepreneur and the park'™s original "œbaby daddy," went to the state with a plan to reopen the regional amusement park, which Dallas-based Six Flags Inc. abandoned in a 2009 bankruptcy.

The ambitious plan included a little matter of the state guaranteeing $50 million in bond issues Hart says it will take to reopen Kentucky Kingdom.

What Hart got from legislators including Rep. Larry Clark, (Dem., Louisville), wasn'™t just "œno," but "œhell no." The governor never weighed in publicly.

So, Hart is negotiating with Metro Mayor Greg Fischer on a more modest $20 million proposal.

Yet, last week, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to grant œArk Encounter more than $40 million in tax rebates.

But again, that's all pretty much in the past; Kentucky Kingdom is set to be opened back up this year while Ark Encounter is...still seeking funding. To that effect, AiG partnered with the town of Williamstown to generate a $62 million dollar bond offering intended to keep the project afloat.
The town is offering the securities on behalf of Answers in Genesis, a Christian nonprofit that operates the Creation Museum 48 miles away in Petersburg. Bond documents project the Williamstown venue will attract at least 1.2 million visitors in its first year.

Investors who buy $100,000 of the securities, which are not tax-exempt, will get a lifetime family pass to the park, bond documents show.

A poor history of repayment for unrated municipal bonds in general combined with offering documents that are less than encouraging and biblically-inspired has caused would-be investors to shy away; reportedly, no institutional investors have purchased the bonds. At the start of the new year, AiG and Williamstown are still around $29 million dollars away from what's necessary:
Even though $26.5 million of securities have been sold, the project needs to sell at least $55 million in total to avoid triggering a redemption of all the bonds, Ken Ham, the nonprofit'™s president, said in an e-mail to supporters yesterday. Without the proceeds, construction funding will fall short, he said.
This bond offering is in addition to other forms of financial incentives provided by the city and state:
The state also agreed to an $11 million interchange upgrade at the KY-36 Williamstown exit off I-75; about $200,000 has been spent on design so far, according to Transportation Department officials.

The city of Williamstown agreed to give the project a property tax discount of 75 percent over the next 30 years, and the Grant County Industrial Development Authority gave them almost $200,000 to keep the project located there, along with 100 acres of reduced-price land.

The project's founder and AiG president is apparently in panic mode.
"œWe still need those Ark supporters who weren'™t able to purchase the Ark bonds at closing to prayerfully consider participating in a secondary bond delivery at the level they had indicated to us," Ham said. "œWill you please step out in faith with us?" [...]

"œThe associated complications and struggles have been beyond our control," said Ham, who cited impediments such as atheists registering for the offering and disrupting it. "œI urge you to please prayerfully consider the options and help us get this bond offering completed."

There is time for someone to come in and purchase those unrated bonds offered by the small town of Williamstown and its taxpayers to allow the Ark Encounter theme park to be built. It's not unimaginable that some wealthy interests with a Christian predisposition will take on this debt at the last minute as a demonstration of devotion. There is such a thing as faith.

There's also such a thing as a sucker being born every minute.

Originally posted to grape's musings on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 03:04 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Atheists, Street Prophets , and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (31+ / 0-)

    "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

    by grape crush on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 03:04:10 PM PST

  •  Unfortunately (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, irishwitch, Dodgerdog1

    I see the Ark park getting built, and perhaps even getting a million visitors a year.

    But, I doubt anyone involved is going to see it as a wise investment in the long run.

    "In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” -Confucius

    by pierre9045 on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 03:32:39 PM PST

  •  Sounds like a total mess on several levels. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    irishwitch, GreenMother, Dodgerdog1

    It goes to show you how powerful (or not so powerful, as the case may be) business interests and politicians constantly conspire to steal tax money from citizens.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 03:47:27 PM PST

  •  Good writeup. Very informative. n/t (8+ / 0-)

    One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

    by Darwinian Detritus on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 04:58:54 PM PST

  •  The market doesn't need lies (4+ / 0-)

    and propaganda.

    Religion belongs in the privacy of your home and church. It shouldn't depend on lies and the taxpayer funding to spread them.

    And it especially should not corrupt children's educational abilities. And foreclose their future and the future well-being of our communities.

    What would be nice is if that stupid waste of taxpayer monies was bought for a song and put to good use for the best of the public.

    A Science and Technology Museum for example... although it's too far away from urban areas. Coordinate with industry and UK/UoL to make a hub.

    One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. --Carl Jung

    by bronte17 on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 05:59:33 PM PST

  •  Put the legality/constitutionality argument aside. (5+ / 0-)

    It doesn't wash.  Here's what I posted when last this story surfaced at DKos:

    Here's what you need to understand:

    1) State law enables the Tourism Cabinet to recommend state assistance for qualified 'tourist attractions.'

    2) That assistance includes tax breaks, infrastructure support (i.e. road work), and inclusion in state tourism marketing efforts.

    3) The requirements are as content-neutral as possible.

    4) This 'Ark Encounter' project qualified under those requirements.

    5) Tax breaks and/or road work have been granted to all sorts of private tourist attractions, including Kentucky Speedway, Beech Bend Park (NHRA drag racing), the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the Corvette Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum, et cetera...across the state.

    Do you really expect the Governor to overrule a content-neutral determination of the Tourism Cabinet?  In fact, wouldn't you be up in arms if he were to do so in a case you SUPPORTED?

    Basically, you guys are bashing a state government for applying its existing law in a consistent and content-neutral manner.

    A few updates to those points:
    6) Both the ACLU and American Atheists have stated that the sales tax incentives awarded under the Tourism Development Act are completely aboveboard, and that they have no complaints about the grant.

    7) Americans United for Separation of Church and State said that they were "looking into" the question of state funds going to upgrade the Interstate exchange nearest the park site, but that they wouldn't make a decision about the tax incentives until the incentives actually kicked in.

    Oh, and finally:
    8) The sales tax incentives expire in May 2014; if the place isn't up and running by then, bye bye incentives.  They won't get an extension.

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 07:01:29 PM PST

    •  Some good points that I chose not to include. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre, Dodgerdog1

      Reading up on this, there was a lot of hoopla around the amount of money the tourism program was going to be dishing out based on the size of the project - around 37 million. Getting deeper into it I saw that, as silly as it seems to me, the Ark was a qualified project. The merit of it being a fundamentalist Christian theme park ended up being irrelevant to me.

      What was more interesting was looking into how eager people seemed to be to jump on board what should have been seen as a weak idea. And why.

      Your point 8 is already in there, 'tho. First quote after the break.

      "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

      by grape crush on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 10:27:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'll give you two reasons why. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grape crush, 207wickedgood

        As I commented in a 2010 diary on the subject (so employment numbers are 4 years old...):

        Here's the economic "why"

        To those who criticize the "jobs impact" as minimal in both number and quality, I say this: with a population of 3200, Williamsown is the largest city in a county with 12% unemployment.   (Kentucky has 120 counties, of which 104 have an unemployment rate of 10% or higher.)  40% of the county's adult residents are not high school graduates.  When the rate is that high for a community of such small size, it's true that "any jobs help."
        Here's the social/political "why":
        Religion plays a major role in Kentucky life and politics.  I can visit at least four seminaries, including the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (yes, Al Mohler's shop), without leaving the state; I can visit a Benedictine retreat and the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton lived and wrote for decades.  The state is also home to two of the counties who fought the ACLU (for YEARS) over posting the Ten Commandments in their courtrooms.

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 09:06:00 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  The other thing people don't seem to get... (0+ / 0-) that tourism development is ALWAYS a gamble.

        Whether it's a hotel renovation in Louisville, a museum in Bowling Green (the Corvette Museum), a restaurant in Lexington, or just a string of destinations with a common theme (the Kentucky Bourbon Trail - nothing but distillery tours/shops), it's a gamble.

        So, back in 2010, when more than 80% of Kentucky's counties had unemployment above 10% and the outlook wasn't that great, did this look like a decent gamble?

        I won't fault the Tourism Development Board for thinking that it was, especially since the bulk of state assistance took the form of sales tax rebates that wouldn't come due unless/until the park opened and pulled in a certain amount of revenue.

        The Interstate exchange upgrade didn't bother me, either, simply because improving an Interstate exchange usually brings a bit of money in, since folks are likely to open gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants, and the like.  Those aren't much, but they're something...

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 09:17:17 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Hey, if you build it, they will come, AND, it (0+ / 0-)

    will perhaps rain for forty days and nights as well.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 09:25:26 PM PST

  •  Didn't they learn anything from Jim & Tammy Faye? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother, cazcee

    Theme parks aren't easy to build and run profitably.

  •  fortunately for Ken Ham and AIG, his "debate" with (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Bill Nye the Science Guy will give him the biggest opportunity for fundraising he has ever had, and allow him to prop up his sinking Ark and "Museum".


    PS--it should be noted that Ham and AIG itself just recently emerged from a bruising internecine fight (complete with lawsuit and accusations of "witchcraft"--yes, really) with its Australian parent organization (Creation Ministries International) over the use of money from lit sales to pay for Ham's museum . . .

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 04:41:21 AM PST

  •  Ham trying to keep the Ark afloat. (0+ / 0-)

    Just a fanciful pursuit of fatherly love?
    The evolution of this story is one more chapter of Darwinian natural selection playing out-may the fittest survive.

  •  Well written & posed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother, The Old Grouch

    The story of "Ark Encounters" has always been more interesting as a political story than anything religious. Ken Ham is a seriously fringe figure who has had to search for a perfect spot to land, and Kentucky-on-Ohio seems to be the spot and time. What's more is that this is vaporware. Even as numerous other fundamentalist theme parks open, get their few visitors, and struggle, his just keeps on getting bonds and promises.

    He hasn't shown a great deal of business acumen, nor financial soundness. The population for visitors is probably there, but whether it's there for this as opposed to the Creation Museum or just a one-day visit to a particular thing is purely speculative.


    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 05:55:12 AM PST

  •  They overestimated the numbers of their base (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Most people know this is pseudo science bs and won't waste their money on it.

    And given your write up, I smell a rat, one that is very flush with cash

    Maybe ole Pat Robertson could sell off some of his blood-diamond mines and provide the rest of the funding.

    Gentlemen, congratulations. You're everything we've come to expect from years of government training (Zed, MIB).

    by GreenMother on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 07:13:03 AM PST

  •  There is also the issue of potential (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    grape crush, Tom Anderson

    employees of the park having to sign a religious statement of faith to work there, as they do at the Creation Museum. This begs big questions on state monies being involved with an entity that discriminates religiously in hiring.

  •  Some years ago, there was a wonderful article (0+ / 0-)

    on the website of The Flying Spaghetti Monster - or whatever that website is/was called.  It was a scathing view of this whole "creation museum" nonsense, and its attractions, as this fun-house appeared in the land of "snake-handlers" and other "fundamentalists".

    I long ago lost the exact link to get to the website, after a couple of C-drive crashes, and replaced computers; but if anyone be interested in a thoroughly good expose of the inherent idiotology of all this dim-wit b.s. - and a really good satire on those who seek to foist it off on others - I rather imagine some one of the "Search Engines" might be able to reconstruct the necessary computerese to get there.

    Most of this kind of "religion" is even funnier than ole Pat Robertson, and his little "private phone-fax connection to 'god'", from which he deigns to let us in, from time to time, on what's the next big disaster planned upstairs, to "punish all the sinners" down here.  But, ole Pat is just one of thousands of Jackasses-in-the-Pulpit, braying away of a Sunday morning, in the various barns-with-steeple across the Nation.  He doesn't hold a candle to dioramas of people riding dinosaurs - shades of Alley Oop! - as may be found elsewhere.

    Someone once remarked:  "Only in America!"  But, if the Kentucky foolishness be fully covered, it would appear that even Australia is inundated with kooks and cranks.  Ah, well!  The "Down-Under" boys ARE spending their money up here, to build these fun-houses; so . . . !

  •  Predictions... (0+ / 0-)

    The Ark will never get built. At this point, the state would need to subsidize the whole thing and even on the off chance that would happen, it would operate at a loss it's entire, very short, existence. Once it's served it's purpose and got the right people re-elected, I imagine those generous tax payer funds would dry up very quickly. The creation "museum" is already in trouble which means that it has no incentive for investors to come in and save the day. Even fundamentalist christians want a return on their investment and I don't see that happening here. Even if it met it's projected first year numbers, I guarantee those numbers would go down every year after that.

    Spreading lies about evil atheists trying to sabotage it are the acts of a desperate man who knows he's in debt up to his eyeballs. My guess is even his vaunted creation "museum" will be out of business within the next decade and his grandchildren will be paying off the debt for this thing for the next few generations.  

  •  I find this whole saga hilarious (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    thanks for the great recap!

  •  The bond sales, through the town of Williamsburg (0+ / 0-)

    sound very, very irregular. When a corporation needs money, they sell bonds under their own name. A corporation, borrowing a municipal government to sell bonds? Something is dramatically wrong. I foresee some crooks running away with the money while the taxpayers of Williamsburg end up with the debt.

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