Replica of Noah's Ark opens to public
"If it floods again, will it float?" a reporter shouted out during a July 5 press conference as dark clouds rolled across the sky over the property off I-75.
"I've had many people in the media ask me if it will float, and my answer is this: read the Bible," responded Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, the ministry that built the ark. His response brought cheers from the crowd.
"After the flood, God said that there was a covenant between him and man and the animals as sealed by the rainbow that there would never be another flood like that one," Ham noted.
"So, will the ark float? No, we didn't build it to float because there's never going to be another global flood."
Based on dimensions given to Noah in the Bible, the ark stands at a staggering 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high -- believed to be the largest timber frame structure on the planet.
Ham has been unapologetic about his real motive for building the structure.
"I believe this is going to be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of this era in history," Ham said during the press conference before the ribbon cutting. Ham said he expects 2 million visitors the first year.
"We built it as a reminder for people that the flood really happened and that God's Word really is true." Ham is a vocal supporter of young-earth creationism, which is the belief that the earth is about 6,000 years old.
The life-sized ark is the centerpiece of the Ark Encounter theme park, which also features a petting zoo, restaurant and zip lines. Inside the ark, three decks are packed with exhibits. Visitors can see animatronic figures of Noah and his family, as well as cages containing detailed animal replicas, including dinosaurs, that Ham believes would have been present on the ark.
Future exhibits could include a Tower of Babel and pre-flood city. Answers in Genesis also operates the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg.
Several government officials were on hand for the ceremonies, including Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton and Williamstown Mayor Richard Skinner.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R.-Georgetown, said that the Ark Encounter provides a huge economic opportunity for the region.
"This changes the dynamic of life in Grant county forever," Thayer said.
"The economics are just an unbelievable windfall for this area. It's going to create a lot of jobs, tax revenue local and state and plus, most people in this region believe in this theology, so it's really a natural location for the Ark Encounter."
"We want people to be born and raised here and stay in Kentucky to find jobs and raise their families and this will help that happen."
A 2015 economic impact study conducted by Jerry Henry and Associates predicts that the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum will support the creation of around 20,000 jobs in the regional tourism industry over the first 10 years of operation of the Ark Encounter and bring about $4 billion of economic impact to the state of Kentucky.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ruled the ark could receive a Kentucky sales tax incentive worth up to $18 million even while requiring employees to sign a statement of faith.
The tourism incentive will allow the project to recover 25 percent of development costs through sales tax rebates.
Ham defended the ruling again Tuesday, saying "it makes sense."
"I can't think of Planned Parenthood employing someone like me in there," Ham said. "Or I can't think of the American Atheists wanting to employ me as the head of the American Atheists."
Critics of the Ark Encounter say the attraction is anti-science, and that hiring practices of the ministry are discriminatory. But naysayers did not stop an estimated 7,000 believers from boarding the ark on Tuesday.
Matt and Lindzi Demarcus from Covington, Ky., spent the afternoon exploring the ark exhibits with their two young daughters. The couple said they wanted to support the project in order to help spread the Gospel.
"It's important for us to raise our children to know that everything in the Bible is true," Lindzi said.
"We will definitely be back."