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Things may be moving slower than expected, but the Ark Encounter is still coming to Williamstown.
That’s the message Mike Zovath, senior vice president of Answers in Genesis, expressed to about 50 attendees at a March 13 meeting at Williamstown High School updating the much anticipated project.
“We’re moving along,” he said. “We thought we’d be there by now, but with the economy as it is, it’s just really been slow. To assure everybody that we are in this thing, we’ve got $9 million in the game already for property and all the work up to it. We’re going to see this thing through.”
No date has been set for a groundbreaking.
However, the Ark Encounter LLC did recently close on the final piece of property, known as the Finke property, needed for the project, which will encompass 800 acres.
The project, which includes a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark, will now be built in phases, rather than all at once.
Money, or the lack thereof, is the main reason dirt has yet to move on the property.
“We’re still trying to get our funding together,” Zovath said. “That’s the thing that is slowing us down on all fronts right now with the exception of the Ark Exhibit Design Team, which is continuing to move forward.”
There are three funding methods for the project: private equity funding, memberships and donations.
There have been more than $5 million in donations.
An independent feasibility study in 2008 indicated that 1.6 million people would visit the Ark Encounter in the first year.
Developers then designed the flow through for the ark for about 1,500 people an hour.
However, Zovath said they realized that the scope could be reduced and the attraction could be built in phases because thousands of people could fit on the boat at a time.
“We don’t need as many things going on at one time at the park,” he said. “We’re able to reduce the scope and cut the cost down from a $150 million project initially to phase one being $73 million. It allows us to break escrow sooner and get started sooner with the assumption that, as we see activity on the property, we’re going to get more people interested in becoming partners and donors.”
The first phase will include the ark, a petting zoo, childrens’ area and food and beverage retailers.
The ark structure will be 500 feet long, 85 feet wide and 50 feet tall, said Zovath.
It will also have three five-story buildings will be on the backside of the ark.
“It’s a unique building,” Zovath said. “It’s going to blow people away when they get inside.”
Once the first phase opens to the public, park officials will be doing studies with guests to see what attraction they would like to see in next phase, said Zovath.
In the meantime, preparation continues as more funding is sought.
Work has begun on getting a gravel road to the location on the property where the ark will be located in order to hold fundraising events for potential donors and investors.
Within three months, the grading plan application request will be ready to send to the state for approval, which Zovath said is about a four-month review process.
The architectural design also is within four months of being complete to submit to the state.
Once the design is approved, the lumber can be ordered for the massive structure.
However, it likely will take six months to be cut and dried before it can be used, said Zovath.
Once construction begins, developers are discussing a way to allow the public to see the progress of the Ark Encounter.
“When the park was massive, we were trying to figure out how to keep everybody out of all the construction that would be going on,” Zovath said. “Now that it’s phased, we are actually looking at building the first part of our village before the ark actually goes under construction so we can do that. So, we can have certain days when we know there’s going to be activity and have people come in and maybe have lunch on the grounds and watch the construction from a safe distance.”
The original completion date for the project was set for 2014.
While he would not give a completion date, Zovath said he would like it to be as close as possibly to the May 2014 deadline for state tax incentives to kick in.
Ideally, construction needs to start late this fall with what will likely be an 18-month construction cycle for phase one, said Zovath.
Williamstown City Council member Kim Crupper, who attended the meeting, said he was satisfied with the update on the project as it progresses in a down economy.
“I felt good that they are going to continue to move forward in locating here in Grant County,” he said. “Patience and financing is what it’s going to take to get it here.”