A little more than a month ago, I covered Ken Ham’s failure to deliver the economic boost to Williamstown, KY that he promised with his Ark Encounter creationist museum/theme park. Ham blamed atheists bad-mouthing the park in the media for the lack of local economic growth, while at the same time trying to discount the lack of economic growth.
There has been another roller-coaster ride of a story that has been taking place with the Ark Encounter over the last month or so.
As I covered in my last post on Ark Encounter, when Ken Ham was negotiating the development of the park, he was able to get $18 million in tax breaks (over ten years) from the state of Kentucky. This deal was based on the fact that Ham pitched the park as a for-profit entity (as opposed to a non-profit ministry).
Back in April, the Williamstown City Council approved a 50-cent admission ticket tax for all ticket-granting tourist attractions in the city. Since this is Williamstown, KY we are talking about, they obviously have very few attractions that fit this definition, and the Ark Encounter is by an extremely wide margin the biggest in terms of size and scope. The council stated that the tax money would go solely to the city’s police and fire departments to fund all the additional resources needed to deal with the influx of tourists.
Ken Ham and the other leaders of the Ark Encounter opposed paying the tax on the grounds that they run a religious organization. If you think that they are already towing a troubling line between for-profit and non-profit religious entities, then just wait.
The city was expecting $715,000 from Ark Encounter based on attendance estimates, but Ham and the other Ark Encounter officials argued for a cap at $350,000. The mayor of Williamstown stated that $300,000 alone was needed to cover police and fire department staff, while the rest of the $715,000 was needed for more police cars, a fire truck, and additional material resources.
The battle over the 50-cent-per-ticket tax waged for a few weeks until it was revealed a couple weeks ago that Ken Ham and the other Ark Encounter leaders tried to pull a fast one (and failed miserably). It seems that on June 28th, Answers in Genesis, the owner of the Ark Encounter, sold the park to its non-profit subsidiary, Crosswater Canyon, for only $10. That’s right, ten bucks for a $48 million piece of land and the $92 million “museum” and theme park that sits on it.
The goal of Ken Ham and his cronies was of course to use the park's sudden non-profit status to weasel out of having to pay the 50-cent tax. There was one problem though; remember that $18 million tax break deal that I covered earlier? That was a deal negotiated with the for-profit company Answers in Genesis, not the non-profit Crosswater Canyon.
Last week it was revealed that the Kentucky Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet’s lawyer sent a letter to Ark Encounter letting them know that as of the date of the $10 sale of the park, they would no longer accrue any of the $18 million in tax breaks that they had previously been approved to receive. The geniuses at Ark Encounter forfeited $18 million just to avoid paying a 50-cent tax (on top of an already $40 ticket!).
It did not take long for Ark Encounter to pull a 180. They sold their park back to Answers in Genesis to regain their for-profit status last week. They also have announced that they have been collecting the 50-cent tax on tickets since July 1st, and agree to pay in full despite their continued disapproval.
I am glad that Williamstown and the state of Kentucky seem to have stopped letting Ken Ham and Ark Encounter fleece them. They are still bound by the previously negotiated deals, but at least they are not letting Ham and Answers in Genesis get away with even more of their money. I hope that the city and the state are able to keep from giving any more ground on issues like this.
It really is appalling that these so-called Christians, who consider themselves moral paragons, are so unwilling to contribute to the community in any meaningful way. The 50-cent tax only exists to try and make the community safer while handling all the tourists that Ark Encounter is responsible for bringing into the city. For Ham and his colleagues to be so obtuse about it is really beyond reason. That should not be surprising though, since Answers in Genesis is already devoid of reason (seriously, just check out their website). And it seems so pointless anyway: when you charge $40 per ticket, who cares about another 50 cents?