Some Grant County locals unsure about Ark Encounter's economic impact

Posted at 5:43 PM, Jul 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-07 08:51:18-04

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. -- Over 1 million people have walked through the "biblically-sized" Noah's ark since it opened one year ago, but locals are unsure of its economic impact on the area.

Answers in Genesis, the owners of Ark Encounter, say the sheer amount of visitors has had a positive impact on the Williamstown area.

Mark Looy, co-founder of Answers in Genesis, said the state projected 350,000 people would visit the Christian evangelical theme park in its first year. Ark Encounter crushed that number three months after opening.

But business owners in Williamstown have mixed opinions about the ark's impact on the area.

Bren Murphy, president of the Merchants Association, said some believe the attraction hasn't had an effect on growing business.

"There's probably a pretty drastic split down the middle, some people ... there's not a lot of gray area. It's a lot of black and white," Murphy said. "People are either against what's going on as far as they don't feel that it's done anything"

Murphy, a business owner, said she commends Answers in Genesis for doing "exactly what they said they were going to do."

"I just hope that moving forward year two, myself and the merchant association and our board members can sit down with the city and the ark and say, ‘OK, we are literally the bridge, the city building, and the ark, what can we do so we can all win,'" Murphy said.

Grant County Chamber of Commerce officials said they hoped they would have more hotels by now to accommodate the visitors. Dry Ridge will be opening between one and three hotels soon.

"Williamstown, though, was not prepared," Looy said. "They had two small motels and not very many restaurants. Once Williamstown puts in these tourist amenities and there's some very serious talk about some hotels being built along the interstate in Williamstown, they will benefit from what Dry Ridge is benefiting from"

For now, Ark Encounter plans to expand its zoo and add a new theater.

WCPO reached out to the Grant County Chamber of Commerce, but exact numbers on revenue generated were not immediately available.