Tax Incentives For Noah’s Ark
- Aug 4, 2014 | Gail Cole
Update 1.27.2016: U.S District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove has ruled that because the tourism sales tax incentive "is neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion, allowing (Answers in Genesis) to participate along with the secular applicants cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion." Blocking the incentive from the project was found to be a violation of the group's First Amendment protections.
2.10.2015: After learning about a discriminatory change in hiring policy, the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet in December 2014 denied Noah's Ark the $18 million tax incentive package discussed below. The theme park now intends to hire based on religion, as the park is evolving from a place of entertainment into an extension of ministry by Answers of Genesis. According to Tourism Secretary Bob Stewart, "State tourism tax incentives cannot be used to fund religious indoctrination or otherwise be used to advance religion. The use of state incentives in this way violates the separation of church and state provisions of the Constitution and is therefore impermissible."
In February 2015, Answers of Genesis announced its intention to file a federal discrimination lawsuit against the state.
Several years ago, a group proposing to build a Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky applied for and won approval for a tax rebate on sales of admissions, concessions, etc. The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority, which grants tourist attractions the sales tax rebate, approved the rebate for the entire $172.5 million project. However, the project stalled due to financing problems.
This time, the group behind Ark Encounter is planning to construct the theme park in stages. Last week, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority granted the first stage of the project preliminary approval “of state tax incentives of as much as $18.25 million.” According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the state money will help “keep the controversial project afloat.”
Ark Encounter is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, the entity that created the Boone County Creation Museum. The museum espouses a “literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, unlike science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.” Some, like the group American Atheists, don’t think state money should support such a project.
Mike Zovath, co-founder and project coordinator of Ark Encounter, disagrees. He points out that the state has granted tax incentives to a wide variety of projects, including a retail and entertainment center in Newport. “This is purely an economic issue,” he said. “This thing is going to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, $180 million in the first year of operation for the surrounding area.”
Still, Mr. Zovath candidly admits that efforts will be made “to present the Gospel at the park.” But he assures that “we’re not going to take your ticket and not let you leave the park until you convert.”
If all goes according to plan, future phases of the park will include The Walled City, a retail center, a Tower of Babel, a walk through biblical history, and a 1st century village. Ark Encounter is expected to open in summer 2016.