No Help From Noah: The County That Banked on a Religious Theme Park to Solve Its Money Problems, by Alan Greenblatt (Governing)
Facing bankruptcy, Grant County, Ky., invested in the park hoping for a new revenue source. But cash has yet to start flooding in.
It’s possible that Grant County, Ky., has touched bottom. The county, which lies midway between Cincinnati and Lexington, almost ran out of money this spring, which would have prompted a state takeover.
In March, county officials approved a 2 percent payroll tax on local workers. This will bring in more than $3 million in the coming year, enough to avoid bankruptcy. But things will still be a bit dicey. Collection of the new tax won’t start until the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1 — the same day the county faces a $500,000 payment on the debt it owes for jail operations. “We think we can make it to the end of the fiscal year,” says County Judge Executive Steve Wood, “but we may have to take out a loan.”
For a while, the county thought Noah’s Ark would save them. Desperate for a new revenue source, local officials gave hefty land grants and tax incentives to the Ark Encounter, a religious theme park that includes a “life-sized reconstruction” of Noah’s ship, along with a creation museum. The park opened last July, but due to the tax breaks, it hasn’t translated into any sort of public revenue windfall for the county.
Visitors to the Ark complex also haven’t been spending as much money as had been initially hoped. In part, that’s because there are few other attractions nearby to entice them to stay. There also aren’t enough hotel rooms to accommodate tourists or restaurants to draw them into local business districts. “We haven’t had anything really built yet,” Wood says. “That was probably wrong on our part” …