Groundbreaking on Ken Ham's Ark Encounter - August 2011?
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Ark park could break ground in August
June 11, 2011
By Mark Hansel
Groundbreaking for the $172 million Ark Encounter project could be as early as August, now that tax rebates for the attraction have been green-lighted.
The approval of incentives virtually assures the project will be built on the Grant County site identified by developers at a December press conference in Frankfort.
"This was the site that we really liked and everything was predicated on getting this approval," Mike Zovath, senior vice president for Answers in Genesis and project manager for the Ark Encounter LLC project, said.
"Getting the approval means we can move forward now and don't have to start over looking at a massive plan for another site. The project would have gone on either way; we would have just had to start looking somewhere else."
The Ark Encounter is a partnership between Ark Encounter LLC, a for-profit company, and Answers in Genesis, the non-profit organization that built the Creation Museum in Petersburg.
Zovath said developers considered sites in Ohio and Indiana, as well as Kentucky and say the potential for incentives made the Grant County site the preferred option.
In addition to a full-size replica of Noah's Ark, the park will feature a Walled City with retail, food and themed venues, a children's play area, a Tower of Babel with a special effects theater and a Noah's Animals area with a petting zoo.
Other exhibits include a Journey Through History themed attraction, a First-Century Village, an aviary and a special events area for large gatherings.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority gave final approval for the incentives in May, which will allow sales tax rebates of up to 25 percent of project capital costs over a 10-year period. The maximum incentive would be $43.1 million over that time.
"It's important to point out we're not getting a dime up front," Zovath said. "We're only getting a portion of the sales tax we collect after the first year and every year after that we'll get a rebate of some of the sales tax that is spent in the park."
The authority's decision followed a report from Hunden Strategic Partners that indicates the park meets the criteria for approval, which includes requirements that it meets the definition of a tourism attraction and at least 25 percent of visitors would come from outside Kentucky.
The independent report was commissioned by the authority and paid for by Ark Encounter LLC.
Overall the project scores high on nearly all the critical success factors," the report states. "A major concern is if the project sponsors are not able to fully capitalize the project. If it is not fully funded, it will either not open or it will be less of a major attraction or success. However, if that is the case, then the rebate it will be eligible for will be reduced by both the investment and the taxes generated on site."
That concern is not shared by Ark Encounter planners who are confident that the project will be completed as envisioned and exceed attendance and revenue projections.
"We're probably ahead of schedule as far as financing," Zovath said. "People don't have to get on board until the end of June, so by then we'll have a better idea of where we are at, but we have a number of different programs on the donation side that we'll unveil this year and next year."
One funding source that has been easy to track is what Zovath refers to as the "pegs, planks and beams" program, which allows contributors to sponsor those items at a cost of $100, $1,000 and $5,000 each respectively.
A running total of donations is kept on the Ark Encounter website and the program has generated more than $3.2 million since December for the ark itself, which is projected to cost $24.5 million.
"I'm actually a bit surprised at how strong the donations are from that program," Zovath said. "That's the entry-level program for people who want to get involved, but can't afford too much."
The Ark Encounter group commissioned its own study prior to submitting the request for tax credits and, based on the optimistic projects from that report, has maintained an uninterrupted planning schedule.
"We haven't wasted any time with the planning of documents or the concepts," Zovath said. "There would have been some changes to the cost on a new site, based on what the soil structure was and that sort of thing. That might have put us back several months, but we're now to the point where we can actually break ground and keep moving."
The 800-acre site is under contract and the purchase of land has been contingent on approval of the tax incentives and testing at the site. The group is now waiting for the results of some additional soil studies and if those tests yield the anticipated results, groundbreaking will take place late this summer.
> "If we are able to break ground in AugustZovath said.
> or September, our architects and engineers
> anticipate a 30-month time frame, which
> puts us on target with our projected opening
> in the spring of 2014."
> "There are always challenges and who knowsArk Encounter LLC recently opened a design studio in Hebron, another sign that the project is moving from the drawing board to the shovels-in-the-ground stage.
> what's around the corner, but we are pretty
> happy that we have been able to stay on schedule."
The design group has been reviewing the fourth cut of planning documents, which include costs for every building, trail and exhibit. They have also taken a three-dimensional model and a topographical model to the project architects in South Bend, Ind., to adjust the location of some attractions.
Designers are looking not just at the initial design, but also at a long-term planning scenario.
"We've got 800 acres and we are building on 120 to 140 of them and another 20 or 30 will be used for parking," Zovath said. "Even though they are Kentucky acres (which can sometimes be difficult to develop), we still have a lot of room for future plans and probably 600 acres has been planned out over the next 10 or 15 years."
Despite the impending groundbreaking, it could be a while before the attraction begins to take shape.
"Everybody wants to see activity, because then they know the project is moving forward," Zovath said. "It will probably be a good year before people really start to see anything noticeable."
Much of the actual park is removed from the adjacent Interstate 71 by design and the first sign of progress will be the plowing of fields while the site work is going on. If the project remains on schedule, passersby should notice the cutting in of the main parking lots next summer.
One of the first structures will be a design facility, envisioned for completion in the next year, which will allow the planning team to work onsite.