This week, Rachel Maddow ventured back into the bluegrass for a segment highlighting The Shame of Kentucky: Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis, creators of the Creation “Museum” — now featuring a white supremacist’s fossil — and the proposed Ark Encounter theme park, which will feature the story of a 600-year old man herding T-Rexes onto a giant boat a few thousand years ago as historical and scientific truth:
Maddow highlighted how the park — which will never be built, don’t worry — could be eligible to receive up to $43 million in tax incentives from the state, thanks to the vocal support of Gov. Steve Beshear. Ken Ham subsequently howled and squealed that Maddow got her facts wrong — Ham intentionally misconstrued what she said, like he does with all other facts — and Ark Encounter will get no public money to build it…just a ton of tax rebates from the state to go to himself and Ark Encounter investors.
Two months ago, Maddow was completely correct in her assessment, but according to new information LEO just discovered from Kentucky’s Tourism Cabinet, the facts on the ground have changed. Ham and his dinosaur boat will absolutely not receive $43 million in tax incentives from the state, and there’s still doubt that they will be eligible for any incentives at all.
Ark Encounter’s original tax incentive application for potentially $43 million was approved by a Tourism board in May of 2011. This gave them three years to start construction, and whatever Ark Encounter spent on construction, they would be eligible for up to 25 percent of that amount once the park opened in rebates, assuming that the project was an economic success and passed benchmarks. However, that three year period ended this month, and Ark Encounter construction has not yet started, which would mean that they are not eligible for any tax incentives unless they amended or resubmitted an application. And in March, that’s exactly what they did.
Tourism Cabinet spokesman Gil Lawson tells LEO that on March 28, Ark Encounter representatives withdrew their original application for a $172 million project and resubmitted a new application for a dramatically scaled back $73 million project. If this application is approved — and if Ark Encounter is actually built and meets economic benchmarks — they would only be eligible for a maximum of $18.25 million in tax incentives.
But that remains a big “if.” Lawson notes that not all applications for tax incentives make their way to the Tourism board for a vote, and just because an application makes its way to the board doesn’t mean that it will be approved. Lawson says that Ark Encounter’s new application is currently being reviewed by the Tourism Cabinet, and it is still far from being scheduled for a vote. Sometimes this process takes a long time (see: Kentucky Kingdom) and sometimes it happens in record speed (see: Ark Encounter from December of 2010 to May of 2011).
During Ark Encounter’s first inception, Gov. Besehar put his full weight behind it, pushing the project through easily with very little oversight, though much humiliation for the state of Kentucky (see: Dinosaurs on a goddamned boat). LEO asked a Beshear spokesman this afternoon if the governor plans to fully support Ark Encounter’s new application like he did in late-2010 and early-2011, or if he would take another strategy. He said he would give us an answer as soon as he could, and we’ll update this story once that comes to us. (*UPDATE: Beshear administration comment at the bottom of this post)
One more question: When Ark Encounter was wooing investors for their project earlier this year, did Ken Ham tell them that $43 million in public money was coming their way once it opened, or was he honest by telling him that little to no public money was going back into their coffers?
Either way, I’ll reiterate one thing: This park is most likely not going to be built in the first place, so this is probably all moot.
***** UPDATE *****
Here’s the comment from Beshear’s spokesman Terry Sebastian, which sounds like there will be no joint press conference any time soon where I can ask him if dinosaurs will be on the Ark:
“With the revised application in the review process, we are going to let the process play out and not comment at this stage.”