WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. (Christian Examiner) – A built-to-scale Noah's Ark is officially scheduled to open July 7, 2016, the date (7/7) to correspond to Genesis 7:7, the verse describing Noah's entry into the ark.
The massive construction project, a subsidiary of Answers in Genesis(AiG), which also opened the nearby Creation Museum in 2007, is set to be the largest tourist attraction in America outside of Disney and Universal.
Ken Ham, founder of AiG, recently spoke to Kentucky officials about the scope and impact of the project.
"At the Chamber of Commerce meeting," he wrote on the Ark Encounter's blog, "I told the civic leaders that AiG is a Christian organization and that we will be giving a Christian message through the Ark project—and we don't hide that fact!"
Ark Encounters' latest video update shows animal crates being lifted by crane and set into place in the all-wood structure constructed by teams of Amish craftsmen.
In response to what he believes Ark Encounters will achieve, Ham told the Chamber of Commerce AiG wants visitors to understand Noah's ark was a real, historical event. "And because many people today scoff at the idea that Noah could fit the animals on the Ark or feed them, and have many other Ark questions, we are going to answer them—and tell the world that the history in the Bible is true ... and therefore the Gospel (based in that history) is true!"
The life-size ark will be 500 feet long, exactly to the specifications AiG has calculated from the Bible. Costing over $90 million, it will create over 1,000 jobs and is estimated to bring over $4 billion to the region's economy.
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Initially in 2011, the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted on a tax rebate of millions of dollars for Ark Encounters, but protests that this violated the separation of church and state caused the project great delays.
"You know, it's been a big step of faith for AiG to build this life-size Ark," Ham said, calling the endeavor an honor and a privilege.
"We have (and continue to have) all sorts of battles (as we did building the Creation Museum). But we are burdened to reach as many people as we can with the truth of God's Word and the gospel, and are undaunted."
In December 2014, after Gov. Steve Beshear objected to giving a religious organization tax incentives, the Kentucky tourism secretary withdrew the tax rebate, saying Ark Encounters was not for the purpose of tourism but religions indoctrination.
Ark Encounters filed suit this February against the secretary and the Kentucky governor for religious discrimination.
"They've given it [tax incentives] to Kentucky Kingdom, and the Speedway, and many other places, too. They just denied it to us because we're Christian," Ham told WDRB on a tour of the construction progress. "That's the bottom line."
AiG's adherence to creationism in a culture of evolution has garnered criticism for its Creation Museum. There is even a website called "No Answers in Genesis," dedicated to ridiculing the belief that the Bible is historically and scientifically true.
"As we tastefully (but boldly) present Christian messages at the Creation Museum, we will do so at the Ark," said Ham.
Ultimately, Ham wants Ark Encounters to point people to the truth of God's word. "It's a message the world needs right now—one that will shine a bright light in a culture that is increasingly becoming spiritually dark," he wrote.