by William Trollinger
Sometimes Ken Ham’s fog machine is a bit too much. Too much obfuscation.
A few days ago Ham put out an article in which he proclaimed that “the internationally popular attractions of Answers in Genesis [AIG}, the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, are about to welcome their 10 millionth guest.” According to Ham, the immediate future is very bright: not only is the AIG “marketing campaign” (which centers around “animated giraffes” in TV ads) moving “into higher gear,” but “we saw very high attendance in March,” all of which suggests that, for Ark Encounter and Creation Museum, “this summer should be our best season ever.” According to Ham, all of this will further contribute to the dramatic economic impact Ark Enounter has had on the economy of northern Kentucky, including “the construction of several new hotels to meet guest demand” in towns north of the Ark (particularly, Dry Ridge and Florence.)
Of course, Ham reports, there have been significant challenges, such as “countering myths” perpetrated by critics. One of these is “the rumor that state money was used to build and open the Ark Encounter. Also, it has had to deal with the myth that the city of Williamstown is at risk on $62 million in Ark Bonds. In reality, individual AiG supporters were the funders of the bond offering. All bond payments have been paid on schedule and the bonds will be fully paid off this month.”
A few points about Ham’s befogging article:
- While these attendance numbers are significant – which is why we should attend to these tourist sites and what they tell us about American fundamentalism in particular and American culture in general – they are less impressive than they seem, especially when it comes to Ark Encounter. And that’s because in the 2013 feasibility report Answers in Genesis presented to the little town of Williamstown to secure financial support for the building of the Ark, they projected 1.2 million as the bare minimum attendance for the first year of operation, with an average annual attendance of 7% for the next decade. Not only has the Ark has fallen far short of such projections, it has never reached the bare minimum 1.2 million attendance mark in any one year.
- Ham’s reference to high attendance numbers in March 2022 – in a March 26 tweet he referred to them as “record numbers” – is simply not true, at least as regards Ark Encounter. Thanks to the precise numbers provided by the City of Williamstown, and shared with us by Dan Phelps, last month’s attendance of 59,428 fell short of the 70,466 attendees in March 2019 and the 62,251 visitors in March 2018. What record has been broken?
- While Ham hates any suggestion that government contributed to the building and opening of Ark Encounter, the fog machine can not obscure the reality that
- a Kentucky state sales tax rebate program provides the Ark with $1.8m annually.
- a county industrial authority provided the Ark $175,000 to assist in the purchase of land.
- local officials “sold” Ark Encounter 100 acres for $1.
- Most important in this regard, and as we have repeatedly pointed out, the town of Williamstown floated $62m in junk bonds to enable the building of the Ark. In contrast with Ham’s false and obfuscating assertion, which he makes again and again, we have never said that Williamstown was at risk in the bond offering. Instead, what we have said is that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes instead goes to paying off the bonds that made the Ark possible. Quite obviously, this is a government subsidy.
- Of course, Williamstown gave Ark Encounter this very sweet deal in the hopes that this mammoth tourist site would have a great economic impact on the little and economically precarious town. But as anyone who drives through Williamstown can see, and as was made very clear in the wonderful documentary, We Believe in Dinosaurs, the Ark has not produced the hoped-for economic benefits. How does Ham explain this failure? While Williamstown is indeed very close to the Ark, the problem is that it is on the other side of the interstate . . . a point Ham and company failed to mention to the good folks of Williamstown when they sold them on the bond deal.
- And here’s a question. If the bonds will be fully paid off this month, does that mean that, after nine years of this very generous local government subsidy, Ark Encounter will finally begin to pay its fair share of property taxes?
Think of this post as a stiff breeze, blowing the fog away so that we can see Ark Encounter more clearly. But please don’t think I am naïve. I know that clearing the fog away is merely temporary.
Even now, I can see it starting to roll in.