Do you realize Ark Encounter has been open for more than a year and we still don’t know what their attendance was for the first full year?
We’ve heard estimates from Ken Ham and his allies — roughly a million people, though that’s waaaaaay lower than they predicted before the $100 million park opened — but we haven’t seen an official number from the state of Kentucky. And state officials would know, since Ark Encounter will be receiving a tax rebate based on attendance. Answers in Genesis also knows, but they haven’t said anything yet.
Even after all the financial chaos of the summer, the number remains a mystery.
Well, now we have something solid.
Ken Ham wrote a letter to the Grant County News yesterday, and most of it is just a Trumpian ego boost. He says the Ark is doing wonderful things for businesses in Dry Ridge (a more developed community about four miles away from the Ark) and things would improve in Williamstown (where the Ark is located) if only city officials would take his advice.
We’ve heard all that before. Ham thinks he can do no wrong, and the Ark bears no responsibility for how local businesses and citizens are struggling.
But in the middle of that letter (which is behind a paywall), he included a surprising parenthetical.
… We agree with [Williamstown] Mayor Rick Skinner that since 2010, the Ark Encounter has had a good working relationship with the city, even after the recent debate over how much the Ark should pay into the safety fee. (We have just sent more than $70,000 to the city, representing July’s payment.) To be clear, and as we have previously stated to this newspaper and the mayor, the Ark Encounter was never against paying its fair share into the safety tax, contrary to many media reports (though not this paper).
Before we get into that number, just a quick point of clarification: Ark Encounter resisted “paying its fair share into the safety fee.” You may recall that this fee is a $0.50-per-ticket surcharge, paid for by visitors, that funds police cars and fire trucks in Williamstown. The city needed that money because of all the additional people visiting Williamstown because of Ark Encounter. Even if visitors to the Ark were rarely in peril, you need those resources on hand in case of emergencies.
Answers in Genesis wanted to cap payments at $350,000. When the city said no deal, Ham upped it to a maximum of $500,000 a year. But based on the Ark’s estimated attendance, they should be paying more like $700,000 a year, so the city rejected the half-million dollar offer, too. Long story short, eventually Ken Ham backed down and relented. There’s no longer a cap on how much Answers in Genesis will pay.
Ham says that in July, they paid $70,000 to Williamstown for the safety fee. Since the safety fee is $0.50 per person, that represents 140,000 who visited the Ark in July. If you multiplied by 12 to get an estimate for the year, we’re talking roughly 1.68 million visiting the Ark in a calendar year. Not too shabby. But of course, that’s not fair. July is bound to have peak attendance. It’s summer. School’s out. Families are taking vacations. It would be foolish to just multiply by 12 since it’s not like 140,000 people would be visiting in February or October. That makes as much sense as a shopping mall owner bragging about all the foot traffic they’re getting in December, as if that’s indicative of the rest of the year.
That’s why we’re still waiting for the final attendance figures for the year. Extrapolating is dangerous here. Ham has tweeted a lot over the past couple of months, bragging about all the people pouring into the Ark. But it’s the summer. That’s when people are expected to come. Is the Ark worth its price tag if the attendance drops significantly during non-summer months?
I’ve also said this before, but I don’t believe they will sustain this peak attendance, either. Right now, the Ark is novel and some people (atheists included) want to see it for themselves. But it’s not like you learn more in repeat visits. It’s not like they’ll have new exhibits next year. New gimmicks, maybe, but no new knowledge. So it’s important to think about whether the Ark will remain popular, even in the summer, in future years.
One other point: Ham paid $70,000 for the safety fee in July. Since his Twitter feed suggests July is normal — he sure wants people to think that — it seems fair to find out how much he’d pay for the safety fee in a year if the attendance remained the same as July. That would be $840,000.
No wonder city officials refused to accept Ken Ham’s caps of $350,000 and $500,000. Even if the attendance for the first year comes in much lower than July’s numbers suggest, Answers in Genesis will be on the hook for much more than $500,000. They fought it as long as they could, and July’s numbers tell us the city was right to push back.
(Thanks to Dan for the link)