Wednesday, July 25, 2018

If You Build It, They Won't Come

It's been a while since I made fun of Ken Ham, Answers in Genesis, and of course Ark Encounter. Frankly, it's been too long. This recent article from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State points out that basically, the giant replica of Noah's Ark that took so much work to get built just isn't meeting the attendance projections used to justify the tax breaks Ham obtained from the state of Kentucky. Ham offered a bunch of rosy projections when he pitched the idea to the state, and apparently the attraction is having trouble meeting even half of its projected ticket sales.

To help cover the cost of emergency services the small town now must provide to the visitors of a large amusement park within its borders, city officials last year initiated a 50-cent fee on the tickets sold at the ark and a few smaller amusement venues in Williamstown. (This is the fee Ham and his company, Answers in Genesis, tried to avoid paying last summer by briefly switching the park’s status to nonprofit – a move that would have had a crushing long-term impact on property tax generation for the community but also nearly resulted in the park losing its $18 million state tourism subsidy.)

The local newspaper, the Grant County News, reported this month that Williamstown had collected about $374,000 in amusement fee revenue from the Ark Park during the first 11 months of the 2017-18 fiscal year. While that’s a nice chunk of change, it’s barely half of what town officials had been led to believe they would collect from the attendance projections submitted by Ham. “Last year, we based [our] budget figure on attendance at the Ark Encounter at 1,400,000,” Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner told the paper. “This year, we are more conservative and using 870,000 visitors.”

Ham initially projected 1.2 million people would visit the Ark in the first year after it opened in July 2016, and that average yearly attendance going forward would be in the range of 1.4 million to 2.2 million people. On the first anniversary of the park’s opening, Ham said about 1 million people visited in the first year, about 16 percent fewer than expected. But, Ham said he expected the 2017-18 attendance to be “closer to the high end” of the projections – in other words, close to 2.2 million people.

Williamstown’s safety fee collection data indicates that not only will the Ark Park’s second-year attendance come nowhere close to 2.2 million, but it will be lucky to hit 1 million. Based on the revenue the city collected, about 750,000 tickets were sold to park visitors in 11 months. In order to hit 1 million paid visitors for 2017-18, Ark Encounter would need about 250,000 visitors in June – more 100,000 more than what’s been reported as the best-performing month of the fiscal year, last July.

The same day the Grant County News story was published, a Cincinnati Enquirer story noted that Ark Encounter officials said they’d reached attendance of 1 million visitors in the past year, which they said was a 20 percent increase from the previous year. Which means about 800,000 people visited the Ark during its first year, not 1 million as Ham previously said and not 1.2 million as he’d projected.

One of the things I was kind of surprised by in those numbers is that Ark Encounter got more visitors in its second year. Ham's Creation Museum had a huge first year, and then attendance basically collapsed. The reason? I'm absolutely convinced that much of that first year attendance was of the point-and-laugh variety. Let's face it, Jesus riding a dinosaur is just funny. Even if you hold the completely reasonable and rational opinion that Ham is full of it, his insane scenes, dioramas, and so forth that fill the Creation Museum are comedy gold. But as a joke, once you've seen it you've seen it. So there's no need to ever go again.

So what this suggests is that Ark Encounter is nowhere near as funny as the Creation Museum. I mean, it's basically a huge fiberglass boat with some fake animals inside. I don't even think they're animatronic. Now that would be kind of funny - you know, if the heads moved up and down and the eyes glowed or something. But I get the feeling that for Ark Encounter, Ham was trying to be taken seriously so he dialed down the camp. Big mistake, at least from the standpoint of revenue. Hardly anybody believes in Ham's version of creationism - even many other conservative Christians reject some of his claims. So he really needs the point-and-laugh crowd if he wants to succeed.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: