Who: Hunden Strategic Partners, LLC, of Chicago

What: Application Review of Ark Encounter, LLC, for the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet reveals much lower attendance projections than those commissioned by Ark Encounter. The report also reveals a severe drop in attendance at the Creation Museum in 2014.

When: Submitted to KY Tourism Cabinet on December 3, 2014. Legal department redacted some attendance figures for the Creation Museum since these could be used by competitors. Mailed to Kentucky Secular Society on January 8, 2014.

Where: Ark Encounter is building a replica of Noah’s Ark near Williamstown, KY.

Why: Ark Encounter has frequently projected attendance of 1.2 to 2 million per year. The Hunden report projects a first year attendance of 325,000, a peak attendance in the third year at 425,000, declining to 275,000 in future years. Ark Encounter recently lost its bid to earn up to $18.25 million in tax incentives due to its desire to practice religious discrimination in employment and the evangelistic nature of the park.

Hunden Strategic Partners, LLC, of Chicago, recently completed a review of the 2014 application for tax incentives by Ark Encounter. This includes the first non-biased attendance projections of the 2014 proposal. Hunden made projections for two scenarios. Scenario A assumes a “mainstream approach to the attraction”, and Scenario B assumes a “more religious-based approach that may represent a specific viewpoint more associated with the Creation Museum”. Numerous individuals with Answers in Genesis (the parent company of Ark Encounter) have publicly stated that the theme of Ark Encounter will be like that of the Creation Museum, even referring to the ark as an “Evangelical Ark.”

Projections in Scenario B included 325,000 the first year, peaking to 425,00 the third year, and plateauing at 275,000 by year 10. Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis have publicly proclaimed attendance projections of 1.2 to 2 million per year. However, these projection figures were for the 2010 proposal, not the 2014 proposal. The 2010 proposal was for a $172 million project and was a multi-day attraction, while the 2014 proposal was for a $73 million project that consisted mainly of Noah’s Ark. More importantly, the group hired by Answers in Genesis to project attendance, America’s Research Group, has several conflicts of interest. The

president of America’s Research Group is Britt Beemer, who is also a co-author with Ken Ham on the book Already Gone. Furthermore, research by Beemer and America’s Research Group is featured in Already Compromised, another book authored by Ken Ham. The Hunden Report contains the only non-biased attendance projections for the 2014 project.

The Hunden report also reveals a very small net fiscal impact of only $4.9 million when compared to the $18.25 million cost of the tax incentives.

Finally, the Hunden report notes a steady decline in attendance at the Creation Museum. The exact numbers were redacted since they could be used by Creation Museum competitors. However, the report states “…each year the attendance figures have decreased… This peak, the decline, is typical for museums, aquariums, and other attractions. The figures for 2014, however, suggests much lower attendance for the full year, as opposed to a plateauing of attendance.” It should be noted that the large drop in attendance at the Creation Museum occurred after the February 4, 2014, debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.

“The Hunden Report adds more evidence that the Commonwealth of Kentucky made the correct decision in rejecting the Ark Encounter application for tax incentives,” commented Ed Hensley, treasurer of the Kentucky Secular Society and co-organizer of Freedom From Religion Foundation, Kentucky Chapter. “Ken Ham, Ark Encounter, and Answers in Genesis are currently threatening to sue the Commonwealth for the right to have tax-supported religious discrimination in employment. We should consider the contrasting claims of the Hunden report while evaluating their threats.”

Ed Hensley
Treasurer, Kentucky Secular Society
Co-Organizer, FFRF Kentucky Chapter

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You can also read commentary on the Hunden Report at Danthropology and The Courier-Journal.