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State never saw feasibility study for Noah’s Ark theme park

By Linda B. Blackford – lblackford@herald-leader.com

When Gov. Steve Beshear held a Capitol news conference to announce potential state tax incentives for an amusement park built around a life-size Noah’s Ark earlier this month, he cited a feasibility study that predicted the park would attract 1.6 million visitors in its first year.

However, neither Beshear nor other state officials had seen or read the study, which was commissioned by Ark Encounter, LLC, the group building the theme park.

“The press release was a joint effort, and the Ark Encounter provided the numbers for the release based on their own research, much like how we work with companies on jobs announcements — they give us the info about their job numbers and investment and we work together on a release,” said Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson in an e-mail.

The state doesn’t have a copy of the report, according to responses to requests under the Open Records Act sent by the Herald-Leader to the state tourism and economic development departments and to the governor’s office.

Officials with Ark Encounter also declined to give the Herald-Leader a copy of the 10,000-page report, including its 200-page executive summary.

According to the company’s summary of the study, the project is expected to create more than 900 full- and part-time jobs in Grant County, a number that Beshear has now mentioned in various venues around the state as he prepares for his re-election campaign next year.

The ark park is an offshoot of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, which is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, showing visitors how the world was created in six, 24-hour days 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. That enterprise is run by Answers in Genesis, which owns part of Ark Encounter LLC.

“We’ve got people making state economic development decisions without actually seeing the numbers,” said Jim Waters of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, a Libertarian-leaning think tank in Bowling Green. “I think that’s outrageous.”

The park is supposed to have a life-size wooden ark, with some live animals and models of others, including dinosaurs, which Ark Encounter officials believe existed alongside man. The park will also feature a Tower of Babel, a first-century village and a children’s play area.

Richardson said the possible $37.5 million in tax breaks would only come after the park met certain financial goals.

“The state doesn’t put in a penny to this project until it is completed, operating, and hitting the agreed-upon performance goals set through the Tourism Development Act,” Richardson said. “If they complete the project and it doesn’t perform as well as projected, then the state does not pay a nickel on the deal.”

Richardson said the Tourism Development Act will require the state tourism department to do its own feasibility study.

As first reported by the liberal Barefoot and Progressive blog, the feasibility study was conducted by America’s Research Group, a Charleston, S.C. consulting and marketing firm run by Britt Beemer, who also co-authored a book with Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham.

In an interview, Beemer said he correctly predicted the 400,000 visitors to the Creation Museum in its first year.

Beemer said his company did “behavioral-based research,” which involved calling 1,000 people around the country and asking them 147 questions about Ark Encounter. He said other clients of his include Berkshire Hathaway and Seely Mattress.

“When someone asks me to do one of these studies, I’m thorough,” he said.

Beemer did a similar study on teenagers’ attitudes toward churchgoing for Ham, which Ham ended up using in a book called Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it.

“He was kind enough to put me as a co-author,” Beemer said.

Beemer said his predictions on visitors to the ark park sound very plausible.

“You have to realize the Ark cuts across almost all faiths, whether you’re Christian or Jewish,” Beemer said. “I think 78 percent of people questioned said they would like to see it; usually when you create a concept like this, you want 48 percent.”

The Ark, which has made Kentucky the target of late night comedians, may face other hurdles, such as a possible lawsuit from opponents who question whether the deal would violate laws about the separation of church and state.

Regardless of this project, Waters said the situation points out larger problems with the state’s economic development policy, including its secrecy.

“We’ve questioned for a long time the lack of transparency on handing out tax incentives,” he said. “It’s also very disingenuous — it misleads Kentuckians to think this has been well thought out, which is clearly not happening. It’s simply a chance for governor to have a photo-op about several hundred low-paying jobs.”

Filed Under: State GovernmentSteve Beshear

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Comments

  1. Buck Feshear says:

    If you ever needed an example of why journalism is dead, this story is a perfect example.

    First, the reporter quotes Joe Sonka’s blog. What the reporter doesn’t say is that Joe Sonka is an atheist with a well-known bias against religion. He has a predetermined bias against this project. The fact that he first reported something has no relevance to the story.

    Also having no relevance to the story is what the idiots on late-night TV have said about the matter. That just shows the reporter’s bias.

    The Great Flood is historical fact. Sonka and his ilk do themselves a disservice if they try to deny this fact against the backdrop of their hatred for God and religion.

  2. Joe G. says:

    Buck,

    Yes, Joe Sonka is an atheist. That is irrelevant, and you are doing a disservice to yourself when you cannot separate your disagreements with somebody from what they say.

    Ms. Blackford merely did her due diligence, and followed good journalism etiquette, by quoting the media source who first reported on something pertinent to the rest of her article. The same would be true if she quoted Drudge, the NYT, AiG, Huff Po, WaPo, Fox, or whoever.

    The big news item here is that the State Government has not actually looked at the study. Other background info, and the statements from the individuals involved aside, really is not the issue the story brings up (whether one thinks it pertinent or not)… It’s clear that on this project the Governor and his staff have not their homework. They’re just hoping they guessed right on the quiz.

  3. Dave N. says:

    Actually, I’d say this is one of the better instances of journalism I’ve seen in Kentucky politics.

    State officials, including the Governor, are throwing their support behind a project they know almost nothing about and have claimed to base their support on a document that none of them have seen and that isn’t available to the public.

    $37.5 million in tax dollars will go towards the project and it seems like there’s woefully little accountability.

    Blackford gave a lot of space in the article to quotes from the people trying to build this arc, it’s just that what they said in those quotes isn’t very convincing.

    And as an aside – if you’re pretty sure the world is only a few thousands years old, you think man and dinosaur co-existed, and/or you’re pretty clear that “The Great Flood is historical fact”… I’m going to want to check your numbers at least twice.

  4. Buck Feshear says:

    Nowhere did I say that I’m a “young earther” nor did I say that believe that man and dinosaur existed side by side.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that the Great Flood did happen.

    And while it may be good journalism to report that Beshear didn’t read the study, neither Joe Sonka nor late-night idiot comedians are relevant to the story.

  5. Dhagy says:

    If I’m not mistaken, didn’t a “park” similar to this one (in Virginia) just close its doors because of lack of attendance? But with a commonwealth that touts a creationism museum–you know, where they prove the Flinstones REALLY existed–what can you expect.

  6. Marion County says:

    Buck,
    If you and others feel so strongly about building the Ark Park, thats cool. Donate your money to this cause and build it. This is America and you have that right, but why do you want my tax money to do it? Is there not enough people who believe in this cause to build it or is it a case where you want government to help your religious cause this time but not help others religious causes?
    I am sure you are some of the same folks who would be crying if the Muslims or Jews wanted to build a religious park in Kentucky and wanted state tax money to do it.

  7. Chuck says:

    Talk about a huge waste of money. So we’ll spend 150 million on things like this, give away 37.5 million in tax incentives at a time when people don’t have food, shelter, or even basic insurance against economic disaster. If this state is that stupid, then I need to start packing my bags and move elsewhere in the Midwest or South. Instead, this sorry state needs to spend money on education so the next generation of people will have enough sense to realize that they get jobs and incomes from creating something worthwhile the market will buy. Not some Creation Museum or Noahs Ark. No wonder the state remains backwards

  8. Dave N. says:

    Buck,

    Why did you think my comments were addressed to you? When I suggested that I’d personally want to at least take a good critical look at economic projections of someone who things the Earth is only a few thousand years old or that man and dinosaur c-existed, I was referring to the organization we just approved $37.5 million in tax breaks for.

    To be clear, I wasn’t referring to you.

    But now that I am addressing you, I think it’s interesting that your primary beef with this article (proof that journalism is dead and all) is that it makes a very off-hand reference to someone you personally don’t like “because he’s an atheist” and therefore biased.

    Do you also believe that Christians should not be quoted in reference to this issue on account of their “bias?”

  9. Dave N. says:

    I’m still waiting for an answer, Buck. I know you post to this site every few hours and so it’s hard to imagine you haven’t read this question.

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