Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis fame, is blaming atheists for the failure of the Ark Encounter to live up to expectations. Uhhh… OK, Ken, sure.
The Ark Encounter, a creationist museum dedicated to a literal
interpretation of the biblical Genesis story, opened on July 7th, 2016 (that day, 7/7, was chosen to correspond to Genesis 7:7, because of course… ugh). The state of Kentucky approved $18 million in tax breaks for the amusement park-museum-monstrosity over ten years. But the important thing to note right now is that Ark Encounter also received local incentives from the city of Williamstown and Grant County. Williamstown issued $62 million in junk bonds to help finance the project, and the bonds are not guaranteed by the city or Ark Encounter, so if the park fails then the bonds are worthless and the buyers are out of luck. The city and county also jointly created a tax increment financing deal. The TIF deal gives back 75% of the increase in property taxes that Ark Encounter owes for the next 30 years. In 2011, the property was assessed at $1.3 million, and is now assessed at $55 million, an increase of more than 4,200%. The deal is expected to save Ark Encounter $10 million over the 30 year deal.
So why did the state of Kentucky, the city of Williamstown, and Grant County all agree to give Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, and the Ark Encounter such a sweet deal? Money! That’s right. They gave Ken Ham all this money because he and his organization promised to create 20,000 jobs and generate $4 billion in tourism revenue. In response to all this promised tourist revenue many developers announced interest in building new hotels and restaurants in the area.
So, has Ham and the park delivered on his promises? We cannot say yet whether the park itself is drawing the crowds expected in the original proposals because attendance information has not been made public, but the community as a whole is not benefitting. There has yet to be any commercial development (although apparently there might be soon), and the existing businesses in the area are still suffering under the same declining economy that Williamstown has been experiencing for the last few decades. A highway development project in the 1970’s altered traffic patterns around Williamstown so much that Main Street businesses have been seeing diminishing business ever since.
So why is the Ark Encounter not bringing in the expected tourist revenue that was promised last year? Well if you ask Ken Ham, it is because of all the bad-mouthing that atheists are doing. His primary example is the same article by Linda Blackford that I previously sourced in this post. Ham calls out Blackford for some of the mistakes she made in the article, but do her mistakes really destroy her case? Let’s look at the mistakes that Ham calls out.
1) Matt Griffith, owner of Shem’s Snack Shack: Griffith had to close his restaurant for a few months over the winter. Blackford’s article indicates this was because business was not sufficient to keep the place open, but Ham claims that in an email exchange with Griffith that he learned the closure was due to sewer lines being replaced.
Alright, so Blackford seems to have misrepresented some information there, whether deliberately or not, but Blackford has a lot of examples in her article about how the community is not benefitting from Ark Encounter as expected. This is just one mistake in one example. So what else does Ham have?
2) Bren Murphy, owner of the Gallery Coffee Shop: Murphy is quoted in Blackford’s article as stating that, “The Ark’s growth is great for their success, but until we see some of that here it’s really not done as well as we hoped.” Ham then quotes Bren Murphy’s Facebook page where she said that she has recorded 4% of her sales being from Ark visitors. And she lays the blame at the community for not doing enough to make sure that everyone benefits from Ark Encounter.
OK, so 4% of her sales are from Ark visitors? Well, that is pretty underwhelming. Ham promised $4 billion, not 4%. And nothing about what Blackford said is really wrong in her article on this. Ham is really reaching with this one.
3) The 2016 Star of Tourism award: Ham goes on to complain that Blackford does not mention that the Ark Encounter/Answers in Genesis received the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitor Bureau’s 2016 Star of Tourism award back in March for their impact on hotels and other businesses in the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati area.
Here’s the problem with this one. Cincinnati is not Williamstown. And Grant County is just one county out of the many in Northern Kentucky. Williamstown and Grant County are the ones that put in the investment on this project, and they were the ones who were promised a return on that investment. Cincinnati is not even in Kentucky! So Ham’s attempt to use the award as an example of all the good that the theme park is doing for the community is more than a little dishonest. Ham avoids mentioning what he has done specifically for Williamstown, or Grant County as a whole. He mentions a couple businesses here and there that have seen an uptick in business, but he promised $4 BILLION in revenue!
Ham does not complain about much more of what Blackford wrote (he goes on to complain about the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and secular media in general), which seems to indicate that a lot of what she wrote is true if he finds nothing else to argue with. So if these are Ham’s best arguments for why Blackford’s article contains an “amount of misinformation and outright lies” that “is staggering” then he needs to reevaluate his understanding of the words “lies” and “staggering”. Ham always seems to have a flair for the over-dramatic though when talking about how evil atheists and secularists are persecuting his Answers in Genesis group.
The real lies, of course, are housed within Answers in Genesis and The Ark Encounter. The creationist museum is devoid of factual content. It relies on the Bible, a book written by ancient people who had no understanding of how the real world worked, and Ham’s own interpretation of it. The idea that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, or that a 600-year-old man built a boat that carried two of every animal species on Earth, those are the real lies.