Will Ark park cost taxpayers’ money?

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By Jamie Baker-Nantz

What will the cost of the Ark Encounter be for Grant County?

To date, the project, which is estimated to bring more than 900 full and part-time jobs to the community, has cost a little bit of money, a 100-acre piece of property, some cooperation and a lot of time.

The Grant County Industrial Authority has transferred $195,000 to the project developers, which is a small amount when compared to the total cost of more than $150 million to bring a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark and a biblical-themed park to Grant County. Attendance projections have estimated the project will bring 1.8 million visitors per year to Grant County.

A big chunk of money, approximately $175,000, came from the IDA’s economic development fund, which can only be used for projects like the Ark Encounter, said IDA Executive Director Wade Gutman.

“Some of the money was already in the bank, leftover from other projects,” Gutman said. “This fund allows us to give seed money for economic development, which is exactly what the Ark project is. It can only be used for this type of economic development and nothing else.”

In terms of time, Gutman has likely spent the most amount of time meeting with developers, other governmental entities and trying to facilitate a working relationship to keep the project on track.

Gutman and the IDA had been working with Answers In Genesis (AiGO, the Ark developers for over a year. He knew the project was on a large scale but wasn’t told exactly what it would be.

The developers were in negotiation for property off the Williamstown exit at KY 36 when the news of the ARK was leaked to the public by an anonymous source within the city.

Gutman said this caused the land price to double.

“In a show of good faith to the developers, we agreed to give them some economic development money to make up for the word getting out too soon on the project,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose this opportunity to locate something like this in Grant County.”

The IDA also offered to pay 2 percent of the sales price of the property to entice the developers to keep the project in Grant County. This meant $20,000 more for a total of $195,000.

“Why give money to the project at all some have asked and that’s easy,” Gutman said. “It’s critical for our community’s economic well being so it was that important for us to give the money and try to turn the economy around.”

This is not the first time the IDA has given money or land for economic development. Previously the gave an acre of land in the Crittenden Industrial Park to allow Wolfe Steel to expand. The IDA also made a loan to a company, which employed 30 people at the time, to keep the business open.

“The IDA has a history of helping with development and if there’s a way we can, we’ll continue to do it,” Gutman said.

The project, to date, cost the county some land.

The Grant County Fiscal Court also agreed to deed 100 acres off Eibeck Lane to the developers for the project.

The 800-900 acre property has passed between the IDA and fiscal court, to a private developer and back to the county before its was given to AiG for the Ark project.

Most recently, the fiscal court deeded the property to the IDA, who in turn, passed it to AiG.

“I am delighted to work with the Ark Encounter investors and developers to bring a project that I believe is in agreement with this faith-based community,” said Grant County Judge-Executive Darrell Link.

AiG has indicated to the county that they’ll be using Eibeck Lane as the main entrance during construction and then for employees once construction is complete. The developers have asked the county to assist them in upgrades to Eibeck Lane.

“We did not specifically discuss what the meaning of ‘improvement’ entailed. However, I have asked the state engineers to do an assessment based upon usage for the Ark Encounter and visitors to our soccer fields,” Link said.

He said a study by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet should be completed soon and he would then work to get state funding if additional improvements were needed.

As far as what the project has cost the taxpayers in Williamstown, Mayor Rick Skinner said “nothing.”

“We’ve set up a TIF zone specific to the Ark property,” Skinner said. “This is a mechanism to help them finance the infrastructure needed for the project. Other than that the city isn’t obligated at this point.”

Skinner said the city council has continued with the same message to the developers.

“We’re happy this project selected Williamstown because they could have chosen somewhere else, but since day one we’ve said our citizens can’t bear any rate increases for this project,” Skinner said.

As far as a new water plant, Skinner said the old plant is rapidly approaching capacity and would need to address the issue, Ark or no Ark.

“At this time we don’t know if the project will actually cost our citizens anything, but our goal is for it not to be a burden to the citizens,” Skinner said.

Tuesday, Aug. 9
6:30  p.m.
Williamstown High School
Public comment sought