A Creationist group's project to build a park centered around a life-sized model of Noah's Ark might benefit from an estimated $18 million in tourism incentives. This would come by way of a state sales tax refund that would be received after the Ark Encounter has been open to the public for at least three years.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority has given "preliminary approval" on the Ark Encounter project overseen by a Christian apologetics group known as Answers in Genesis.
Gil Lawson, spokesman for the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, told The Christian Post that the "preliminary approval" was given last week.
"The authority gave preliminary approval on July 29, which means a study will be conducted to determine if the application meets all of the criteria required under the law," said Lawson.
"Once the study is complete, it will be presented to the authority for consideration. A public hearing must also be held."
Lawson told CP that contrary to some early reports, "legislative approval is not required" for the tourism incentives to be given out.
If approved, the park may benefit from an estimated $18 million in tourism incentives, reported Maryanne Zeleznik of WVXU Cincinnati.
"The finance board will make a decision on whether to grant final approval on the incentives in the next month-and-a-half. The board is awaiting a final analysis of the project by a contracted consulting firm," noted Zeleznik.
The Ark Encounter is a major project of Answers in Genesis, a young-earth Creationist organization and Christian apologetics group that also oversees the Creation Museum of Petersburg.
Slated to be built in Williamstown, a small community located in Northern Kentucky, the Ark Encounter has had its share of issues getting started.
In late December 2011 it was reported that the Ark Encounter was suffering from a lack of donations, having raised only $4.4 million of the needed $24.5 million at the time.
While donations were one source of income, the Ark project continually found itself having to push back it's expected groundbreaking date.
Ken Ham, Creation Museum CEO, told CP that another factor causing delays have been bureaucratic issues stemming from construction contracts.
"Construction is not easy these days. And it takes a long time to get some permits and we've actually been waiting on some of the permits," said Ham.
"It's moving ahead. We would like to have seen it built earlier, but that's just the way it is; it happens in any construction project."
Ham also told CP that "all the heavy equipment" will be at the Williamstown site by tomorrow and Thursday, with an expected opening date set for 2016.
"The secularists make all sorts of accusations," said Ham. "the truth of the matter is, even if we had had all the funds two, three years ago, we couldn't have started doing what we're doing until tomorrow."
"And the reason is because you got to get all these permits in line and you just don't know how long some of them are going to take because there's a lot of bureaucracy involved sometimes."
The Ark project also garnered the criticism of groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which has long voiced concern that the religious park is entangled with government funding.
In a recent blog entry, Americans United's Rob Boston wrote that the Ark project is "clearly designed to promote fundamentalist views of the Bible, views that stand in sharp contrast to modern science."
"Ham and his pals have every right to build and operate the Ark Park on their own time with their own dime. But that's not what they're doing," said Boston.
"From the beginning of this enterprise, they have sought to tap the taxpayers' wallets for their fundamentalist theme park. That's not right. The goal of the Ark Encounter is to persuade people that Ham's view of Christianity is true and that they ought to adopt it. The government has no business helping Ham proselytize."
Regarding church and state concerns, Lawson told CP that "our tourism incentive law looks strictly at the economic development aspect."
"This project is being treated like other applications for tourism incentives. We are reviewing it to see if it meets the requirements under the statute," said Lawson. "The law allows a tax rebate based on sales tax receipts generated by the project and is performance based. The rebate can be for up to 25 percent of the approved cost of the project and is spread out over 10 years."