A huge fiberglass ark sits at the center of a Hong Kong Noah's Ark attraction, and another floating ark in the Netherlands is being built by a Dutch man, who wants to sail it to London for the 2012 Olympic games. Closer to home, a church in Frostburg, Md., is building a to-scale ark supported by a steel frame.
But attractions with religious themes can be a risky venture, according to an amusement park expert.
"In some ways it's a two-edged sword: If you go for the religious market, you already have something that is somewhat unique in the market, and that particular market is known to be willing to make a special effort, to drive an extra distance, to get the church groups to go out and make a special outing," said John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors of Richmond, Va.
"The problem with that approach is you always risk bordering on being disrespectful if not sacrilegious," Gerner said. "There is a line as far as what you can do in this approach."
Some in the state hope it will be a major attraction. A feasibility study on the Ark Encounter declared that the park would attract 1.6 million visitors in its first year, Zovath said. The smaller Creation Museum has attracted well over a million people since it opened four years ago.
State officials are banking on the park's success and the 900 jobs it is expected to create, by making the project eligible for more than $40 million in sales tax rebates if the Ark Encounter hits its attendance marks.
Tying state incentives to a religious theme park has also attracted some criticism, though notably less than The Creation Museum, which received no state support. That facility was built on private donations.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based group, has said the park would run afoul of constitutional law.
"Noah didn't get government help when he built the first ark, and the fundamentalist ministry behind the Kentucky replica shouldn't either," the group said in a statement. But so far they have taken no legal action. Kagin said challenging the project in court would likely be a losing battle because of the way the tax incentives are structured.
"The legislation is so drafted that they will give this incentive to any organization that is going to increase tourism in Kentucky," Kagin said. "And there's no question whatsoever that this group will."
Zovath said construction on the ark is expected to begin in the spring
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