- Associated Press - Sunday, July 17, 2011

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Originators of a proposed biblical theme park that would include a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark had considered sites in Indiana, Missouri and Ohio but ultimately chose to build in Kentucky because of the state’s generous package of tax incentives, one of the developers said.

Mike Zovath, co-founder of the Answers in Genesis ministry that previously built the Creation Museum in Kentucky, told the Associated Press that the state’s offer of tax incentives worth more than $40 million was too good for the newly created Ark Encounters LLC to pass up.

“We weren’t sure where we going to build until the state of Kentucky approved the incentives,” Mr. Zovath said. “Until then, it was still up in the air.”

The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved the incentives in May for the $172 million project that’s otherwise being financed by a group of unidentified private investors.

“That incentive package was by far the most enticing of any anywhere east of the Mississippi,” Mr. Zovath said.

Mr. Zovath said developers had hoped to build reasonably near the Creation Museum just south of Cincinnati because they believed the two sites would be mutually beneficial in drawing tourists.

The biblical theme park would include a replica of the Tower of Babel, a first-century village, theaters, lecture halls, retail shops, restaurants, a petting zoo, and live animal shows featuring giraffes and elephants.

Gov. Steve Beshear said he’s pleased the developers chose Kentucky because of the hundreds of jobs the theme park would bring to the state.

“I knew that they were looking at several locations at that time, but they sat down and talked to our tourism people and learned what all Kentucky could do. I felt like we were very competitive,” he said.

Rob Hunden, a consultant who reviewed the proposal for the Tourism Development and Finance Authority, said the project is expected to draw about 1.4 million visitors a year.

The theme park is projected to create 600 to 700 full-time jobs and have an economic impact of more than $250 million in its first year of operation.

Providing government tax incentives for a project with a religious theme had drawn opposition on grounds of church-state separation.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State executive director Barry W. Lynn criticized Kentucky’s decision, saying the state “should not be promoting the spread of fundamentalist Christianity or any other religious viewpoint.”

With environmental and archaeological reviews nearing completion, groundbreaking has been tentatively scheduled for August.

“We’re moving along at a good pace,” Mr. Zovath said. “We haven’t run into any obstacles with the site.”

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