Completion of Ark theme park expected July 2016
The infrastructure of the mammoth boat rises above a rural swath of rolling farmland in Williamstown, Ky., about a half hour south of Cincinnati. Cranes are doing the heavy lifting, putting massive wooden beams in place some four stories high.
Ken Ham, co-founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis, said the Ark Encounter theme park is opening on schedule despite the state of Kentucky refusing to provide a hoped-for package of tax incentives.
Answers in Genesis, the company building the ark, already operates a Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg.
The Ark Encounter will be open for "40 days and 40 nights" during its first 40 days of operation, in reference to the 40 days and 40 nights of rain described in the Bible as the flood commenced.
When completed, the ark is expected to be the largest timber-frame building in the world at 510 feet long.
"It's really not commonplace for a conservative Christian organization to actually be building such a world-class, professional themed attraction as the Ark Encounter," Ham said. "But by the grace of God, we are thrilled and thankful that we've been entrusted with such a project as this."
The project will cost a total of $102.7 million, and will feature 132 exhibit bays with an "educational and entertaining" Christian message.
Ham said the Ark Encounter will offer an opportunity for Kentucky churches to reach out to out-of-town visitors, as well as friends and neighbors.
"We look on the Ark … as really a facility for the church," Ham said.
"It's really for God's people to use to bring others to help make the Christian message real to them and to start up a conversation."
The Ark Encounter is expected to draw between 1.4 and 2.2 million visitors a year, boosting the economy for the region.
The state of Kentucky initially approved a tax incentive package worth millions for the Ark Encounter, but reversed their decision last year due to the religious nature of the theme park.
The tourism incentive would have allowed the project to recover 25 percent of development costs through sales tax rebates after the Ark opens.
The ark's builders are suing in federal court to get the incentive back and Ham says he expects the judge to rule at any time.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning Jan. 19, 2016. They will be $40 for adults, $28 for children and $31 for seniors. Parking is $10.