by William Trollinger
Last week a reader sent a snarky note in response to a 2017 post I wrote about the failure of the newly-opened Ark Encounter to live up to its first-year attendance projections:
Wonder how you’re feeling about the fact [that] about 10 million people have visited the Ark Encounter and [that] there are new hotels being built to meet the demand of the ever expanding attraction.
Here’s the first part of my response:
I am guessing you are getting these numbers from Ken Ham. I am afraid the facts do not come close to supporting his claims . . . More than this, the Ark has not come close to matching the attendance projections they used to convince Williamstown to issue junk bonds to aid the project.
Facts. It’s wonderful to work with facts. And as regards Ark Encounter attendance, we have facts, and thus don’t have to depend on the “creative” statements put forth by the folks at Answers in Genesis (AiG).
One of the facts we have is the 2013 Ark Encounter, LLC Feasibility Report that was presented to the town of Williamstown, and is included as Appendix A in Williamstown’s official statement regarding the issuance of $62 million worth of “Taxable Industrial Building Revenue Bonds, Series 2013.”
On the first page of the “Visitation Projections” section, right there in black and white, the feasibility report confidently claims that “the Ark Encounter is expected to attract between 1.2 million and 2.0 million visitors (or an estimated average of 1.6 million visitors) during the first year of operation.” Then, in the “Financial Projections” section, there is a very clear “10-year Operating Income Projections” chart, which includes the projection that there will be (in the first ten years of the Ark’s existence) “Annual Attendance Growth,” with a 4% annual increase as the norm, but with a few years (thanks to new exhibits and the like) that will see a 10% growth rate.
Using the “estimated average of 1.6 million visitors” in the first year – and I should note that Ham actually predicted that first year attendance would be closer to 2.2 million – here’s the projected attendance numbers included in the feasibility study:
- Year 1: 1,600,000
- Year 2: 1,664,000 (4% increase)
- Year 3: 1,730,560 (4% increase)
- Year 4: 1,903,616 (10% increase)
- Year 5: 1,979,761 (4% increase)
- Year 6: 2,177,737 (10% increase)
And here come some more facts. We can actually know how many folks visit Ark Encounter, thanks to the fact that – as of July 2017 — a 50 cent “safety fee” has been added to each Ark ticket. Every month the remarkable Dan Phelps – founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society – asks Williamstown officials for the total amount collected that month from the safety fee. And from those facts we have a very clear picture of Ark attendance.
So here is the actual Ark Encounter attendance, compared to the projected attendance numbers:
- Year 1 (JY 2016-JE 2017): est. 800,000 (50% of projected attendance)
- Year 2 (JY 2017-JE 2018): 862,491(52% of projected attendance)
- Year 3 (JY 2018-JE 2019): 875,882 (51% of projected attendance)
- Year 4 (JY 2019-JE 2021): 841,772 (44% of projected attendance)
- NOTE: I left out March 2020-February 2021, given the impact of COVID on Ark attendance.
- Year 5 (JY 2021-JE 2022): 775,731(39% of projected attendance)
- Year 6 (JY 2022-JE 2023): 724,311(33% of projected attendance)
- NOTE: the January-June 2023 numbers are estimates based on the fact that Ark attendance the first six months of the year has historically been around ¾ of attendance in the last six months.
Ark Encounter has never reached the 1.2 million which was estimated as the absolute lowest possible attendance in the first year, much less reached the median estimate of 1.6 million. And with every year the Ark sinks further and further behind the numbers included in the feasibility report. Numbers that convinced little Williamstown to issue $62m of junk bonds to get the Ark project started, and to agree that 75% of what Ark Encounter would have paid in property taxes would instead go to paying off the loan.
What a sweet deal for the Ark. What a government subsidy.
And Williamstown is left holding the bag. I concluded my response to the correspondent mentioned at the beginning by noting that
to add insult to injury, Williamstown is clearly not seeing great benefits from the building of the Ark. It would be lovely if Ham and Answers in Genesis would come clean about all this, but I am not holding my breath.
Evidentiary facts are sticky things.
Tim, sometimes facts are just annoyingly inconvenient. Best just to ignore them.
😂 Like trying to explain the origins of life. Evolution is just tend to punt that one and Ignore that the question actually exists. They say it’s not within our purview of science. Well, no kidding because if you can’t get evolution out of the staring-blocks what’s the point. Perhaps you could explain “ spontaneous generation” , and how it created everything we see today..
I have a dog in this fight, having been at one time a member of the editorial board of the journal Origins of Life and the Evolution of Biospheres.
As you correctly say, origins of life science is not part of evolution science, just like the origin of atoms is not part of chemistry. It is, however, recognised as one of the most interesting unsolved problems in science, and research into processes possibly relevant to the origins of life has led to major advances in areas as diverse as materials chemistry, antivirals, and computing.
Or would you prefer us to invoke a supernatural explanation and give up?
How are the plans to rebuild Babel coming along?
Paul, the Tower of Babel is still on the drawing board (and yes, saying this is weird). See here.
Unbelievable how long this grift has been going on. There’s a reason why Southern states spend so little on education. If citizens were able to analyze just how much they were being ripped off they would never stand for it.
Thanks, Renay. Education — real education — matters. And with those critical thinking skills, one can see right through Ham’s denials that Ark Encounter has received government subsidies.
Facts only speak for themselves … IF you share ALL the facts. Why did you not mention that the Ark’s attendance figures taken from the city of Williamstown will not include hundreds of thousands of guests each year? Surely in your research (you have earned doctorates, suggesting you will conduct thorough research before publishing anything), you would have discovered that fact. Other than the COVID year of 2020, Ark attendance has been well over 1 million people each year.
In reality, the city’s annual figure does not include (and you would know this if you did the research) children ten and under who visit free; does not include Ark members who don’t have to buy a ticket at the gate and pay the safety tax the city collects (and these members also have multiple free guest passes to give out); and does not include miscellaneous free tickets given away for charitable reasons. So no: these are NOT “actual Ark Encounter attendance,” as you claim. Not even close.
The attendance figure would be even higher except for one thing: there are not enough hotel beds in the area for late spring/summer for Ark guests. About 92% of Ark guests come from outside the region and they need hotel rooms. If there are 9,000 guests visiting the Ark on a Saturday in July (which happens), hotels from a 90-mile radius will be full. Think about it: how many hotels will be needed for 8,000-9,000 guests per night, given that an average hotel or motel has 75 rooms? You need several hundred hotels. Many people just give up (I’m told) visiting the Ark on Fridays and Saturdays in the summer because there is no place to sleep, and they don’t want to stay in places more than 90 miles away – so they just don’t come. More hotels are under construction in the area to meet this huge demand, so you should see that 9,000 attendance figure rise. The lack of hotels has been a real cap on potential Ark attendance. If you own a hotel in the region, you have become wealthy because of the Ark. Yes, the economic impact has been enormous.
BTW: I do not live in the area but have been following the success of the Ark from here in California—and someone at the Ark gave me some of the information above.
Dear Kurt: Oh, we have done the research. And I am not sure that asking folks at the Ark for their “information” constitutes research. As opposed to the Williamstown facts, which are there in black and white, there’s no way to verify the accuracy of what the folks at the Ark have to say (and let’s just say we are a little skeptical). More than this, it is standard for attendance numbers to refer to paid attendance . . . and those alleged additional attendance numbers do not refer to paid attendance.
As regards hotels, I am sure the folks in Williamstown would be thrilled if some of these supposedly desperately needed hotels would pop up in their little town, given the government subsidy they provided the Ark (a government subsidy that Ken Ham resolutely refuses to acknowledge), and given that they have yet to see the promised economic boon (points that you do not address in your comments).
Finally, you also fail to note that — even if we accept the Ark supposed unpaid attendance numbers — the Ark has not met what was promised in their bond prospectus in terms of attendance growth. And by the way, the bond prospectus (with its projected numbers) is all about PAID attendance, given that it is a financial prospectus. That seems pretty obvious.
All this to say that we don’t think that asking folks at Ark Encounter for their spin on attendance constitutes factual research. But thanks for writing.
So, you acknowledge you DON’T have the accurate attendance numbers for each year? You omitted hundreds of thousands of visitors every year in your annual numbers (i.e., children 10 and under, plus Ark members and their non-paying guests). At least you won’t make that mistake again …
What we have, Kurt, are very accurate paid attendance numbers. And I have to say that, especially given the financial prospectus that the Ark provided Williamstown, these are the numbers that matter. And these numbers do not come close to matching what the Ark folks projected, which has turned out to be bad for Williamstown.
These very accurate paid attendance numbers are in stark contrast with the speculative spin provided by the folks at the Ark. But we have come to expect nothing better.
I know I’m late to the party here, but a couple of notes:
1. Hotels – the Ark Encounter is a 40-minute drive from Cincinnati. Plenty of hotels to be found there.
2. Giving away free tickets doesn’t equate actual visitors. If I were planning and event, I could give away 1,000 free tickets (or even just say I did) but that doesn’t mean 1,000 people actually showed up and I couldn’t claim so.
Thanks, LJ, for your good words.