Answers in Genesis has revised its estimate of how many visitors it expects at its Ark Encounter theme park, now under construction in Grant County, Kentucky.
AIG now believes the park, which includes an full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark, will draw between 2.1 million and 2.4 million in its first year, AIG’s Chief Action Officer Mike Zovath said. Previously, AIG had estimated 1.2 million to 2 million visitors. Both estimates, though, are significantly higher than estimates in a study commissioned by the commonwealth.
The new theme park is also expected to nearly double attendance at AIG’s Creation Museum in Petersburg, Zovath said, bringing in between 300,000 and 350,000 additional visitors. To prepare for the influx, he said, AIG is spending about $6 million to expand the museum’s parking lot and add new exhibit space and exhibits.
That’s in addition to the approximately $80 million AIG plans to spend on the first phase of the Ark Encounter theme park. Zovath said AIG hopes to complete both projects by next summer. AIG, a nonprofit based in Petersburg, Kentucky, promotes a literal Biblical account of creation.
AIG has designed the Ark Encounter to handle 1.6 million visitors in its first year, Zovath said, but it could handle more visitors through measures including extending hours of operation.
A report commissioned by the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet and completed in December 2014 predicted 300,000 to 500,000 visitors in the first year, peaking at 425,000-650,000 in the attraction’s third year.
The Ark Encounter is expected to employ 150 to 300 in its first year, Zovath said, with peak employment during the summer, Christmas holiday and spring break. The study commissioned by the tourism cabinet estimated the park would create 514 to 787 net new Kentucky jobs directly and indirectly in its first 10 years of operation.
After a preliminary approval, the tourism cabinet in December declined to award AIG $18 million in tax incentives for the project, saying it had become more an extension of a ministry than a tourist attraction and that AIG’s hiring practices involved religion-based discrimination, including requiring applicants to attest they subscribe to the creationist belief in Earth’s origin.
Answers in Genesis in February filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the decision overturned.
The park will feature a replica of the ark that’s 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 54 feet high — specifications from Chapter 6 of the Bible’s Book of Genesis (the Biblical unit of measure was a cubit, the length from the tip of a man’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger). Colorado Timberframe in Boulder, Colorado, which is supplying the framing, said the ark will be the largest timber-framed structure in the country.
According to www.arkencounter.com, much of the masonry work for the project is complete, and workers are installing some of the 32 wooden “bends,” weighing 25 tons apiece, that will support the ark.
More than $75 million has been raised toward the project, including $62 million in taxable industrial building-revenue bonds issued by the city of Williamstown. Once the ark is completed, AIG will begin raising money for additional phases of the park, Zovath said, including replicas of a walled city, the Tower of Babel and a first-century village.
“We’re really excited about the possibilities,” Zovath said.