Funding after evolution debate spurs Noah's Ark project

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The founder of a Bible-themed museum who recently debated evolution with TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye says fundraising after the widely watched event helped to revive stalled plans to build a 510-foot replica of Noah's Ark.

Creation Museum founder Ken Ham said a municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the wooden ark, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.

Ham said in a news release that the "high-profile debate helped encourage more of our ministry friends to get involved in the past few weeks."

"We praise our creator God for His blessings and for the incredible support we just witnessed from our generous supporters around the country," Ham said.

Reached by phone Thursday, Nye said he was disappointed the project would go forward and said he hoped it "goes out of business."

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"If he builds that ark, it's my strong opinion, it's bad for the commonwealth of Kentucky and bad for scientists based in Kentucky and bad for the U.S.," Nye said. "And I'm not joking, bad for the world."

The Answers in Genesis ministry, which Ham leads, unveiled a proposal in 2010 for a $150 million theme park that would include the ark. But private donations to the project did not keep pace with the construction timeline, forcing its backers to delay the ark's construction and divide the park development into phases.

Ham said Thursday that the entire theme park would be built over several years.

Ham's ministry and the Creation Museum enjoyed an avalanche of news media attention during the Feb. 4 debate with Nye on evolution and the Bible, which was streamed live on the Web. Answers in Genesis said millions around the world watched the event, and it was followed by numerous national news reports and TV talk show discussions.

WATCH DISCUSSION OF ARK PARK

Ham said the bond issue has faced many obstacles, including what he called misleading news media reports and attempts by opponents to disrupt the bond offering.

"It was a challenging time, one that on a human level required a miracle to overcome," he said in the release.

Ham has said the debate with Nye introduced to a wider audience his ministry's views that the Bible's creation story is a true historical account.

Nye brushed off a question about whether he might be criticized for taking part in a debate that boosted fundraising for the ark.

"Me? I've always been criticized," he said. Nye added that he was skeptical the ark would ever be built.

For several years, the ark project had been a sore subject for the ministry, which had raised about $14 million in private donations for the first phase of the theme park, according to the Ark Encounter website.

The $62 million in municipal bonds were issued by the city of Williamstown, which will be the site of the ark park, about 40 miles south of Cincinnati. The bonds are to be repaid through revenue from the park.

The wooden ark would have old-world details, such as wooden pegs instead of nails, straight-sawed timbers and plenty of animals — some alive, some robotic.

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