WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. -- Officials of a Noah’s Ark theme park have sold their main parcel back to a for-profit affiliate days after Kentucky’s tourism agency said the park had breached an incentive agreement that would refund a portion of the sales tax collected at the site.
The issue began in June after Ark Encounter transferred the property to its nonprofit affiliate Crosswater Canyon for $10.
It was switched back to Ark Encounter on July 21 after the Kentucky Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet suspended a tax break worth up to $18 million for the biblical attraction, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.
Mark Looy, co-founder of Ark Encounter’s parent body, Answers in Genesis, said on Monday they needed to keep options open, but didn’t explain the two land transfers.
Why does any of this matter? As a nonprofit entity, Crosswater Canyon could claim religious tax exemptions for which the Encounter did not quality. Williamstown City Council members openly worried that the sale would be the first step in the Ark Encounter's leadership attempting to establish itself as a tax-exempt entity.
In April, the council approved a 50-cent tax on every admission ticket sold at $40 for adults and $28 for kids, telling the Herald-Leader the taxes are needed to upgrade the city’s emergency services that cover the park, which includes a petting zoo and zipline.
Losing that revenue would hurt Williamstown, Grant County and local schools, according to Mayor Rick Skinner, who added he was "disappointed" by how much the city's relationship with park management had deteriorated.
Looy said the Ark Encounter has always been willing to pay into Williamstown's safety fund, suggesting a yearly cap of $500,000.
The 510-foot wooden ark opened in July 2016.