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“The Ark Encounter is going to be a tremendous boom for everyone,” Mike Zovath, senior vice president of Answers in Genesis, told more than 300 Grant County residents in attendance at the annual chamber banquet on April 30.
He was the guest speaker during the banquet, which featured a Noah’s Ark theme and is held annually to honor award recipients.
Award recipients included: Tabatha Fryman, Grant Countian of the Year; Dave Brockman, Excellence in Business; Heleen Geisbers, Excellence in Education and Jack Eckler, Volunteer of the Year.
Speculation that the theme park was more dream than reality has plagued the project since it was officially announced in November 2010.
“We want to be part of seeing Grant County and the city of Williamstown grow and we believe the Ark Encounter is a quality project,” he said.
The project, which is a partnership between Ark Encounter LLC and Answers in Genesis, who built the Creation Museum in Petersburg, is religious-themed attraction featuring a six-story wooden replica of Noah’s Ark, live animal shows, a petting zoo, a 40-acred walled city, children’s play area, Tower of Babel, first century village, Journey Through History taking visitors on a “trip through events of the bible” and bird sanctuary.
It is expected to create 900 full and part-time jobs and to bring 1.6 million visitors to the park annually.
The developers have applied for tax incentives through the Kentucky Tourism Development Act. These incentives allow them to recover up to 25 percent of the cost of the project by recouping sales tax revenue paid to the state on tickets, lodging and other items.
The project has been given preliminary approval by the state on what really amounts to sales tax breaks. Zovath said final approval should happen by mid-May.
“We believe this will be done in a couple of weeks,” he said.
Ground breaking is slated for August with an opening date of Spring 2014.
“A lot of people ask what’s going on because we don’t see anything,” Zovath said. “We started to rent some bulldozers to drive up and down the property to show people we believe this project is going to happen.”
While the state is conducting it’s own tourism impact study on the project, there’s been movement including core sampling, environmental impact studies and discussion on zoning issues and infrastructure needs.
“There’s definitely a lot going on behind the scenes,” Zovath said. “This is an important project in our minds and we think it’s going to be a blessing to everyone.”
Patrick Marsh, director of design, also spoke briefly about the park’s attractions.
“This is going to be Disney-style quality and top of the line for everything we bring to the park,” Marsh said. “There’s no place in the whole world you’re going to go to get this story.”