Ark Park attendance is estimated to be no more than 640,000 visitors in its best year, down from 1.24 million, according to a report by Tom Loftus in The (Kentucky) Courier-Journal. That is not as bad as it appears – or as good as it appears, depending how you look at it – considering that the project has been scaled back from $172.5 million with many additional attractions to $73 million without.
The Kentucky Secular Society obtained a redacted copy of a report by Hunden Strategic Partners, of Chicago, through the Kentucky Open Records Act and distributed a press release to a handful of reporters. According to the press release, Hunden examined two scenarios: a “mainstream approach” and a religiously based approach “that may represent a specific viewpoint more associated with the Creation Museum.” The religiously based approach would net an attendance of 325,000 in the first year, a maximum of 425,000 in the third year, and then a decline to 275,000 by the tenth year. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis had said in October that “the full-size Noah’s Ark, when it opens in 2016, is estimated to attract up to 2 million visitors a year,” but this estimate was probably based on the earlier proposal. Hunden also estimates a “fiscal impact” of $4.9 million, kind of a paltry return on a total tax-incentive package of $18.25 million.
Hunden also points to a steady decline in previous attendance at the Creation “Museum,” including a projected steep decline in 2014, but the precise figures have been redacted. I cannot tell from the wording whether to credit the report or the Kentucky Secular Society, but the press release claims that the attendance dropped precipitously after the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye in February.
Ed Hensley of the Kentucky Secular Society notes in the KSS press release,
The Hunden Report adds more evidence that the Commonwealth of Kentucky made the correct decision in rejecting the Ark Encounter application for tax incentives. 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.