When Ken Ham opened his Creation Museum in Kentucky, it defied skeptics by drawing nearly 400,000 visitors in its first year of 2007, well above the targeted 250,000. This initial success may be one reason for his organization Answers in Genesis to embark on an even more grandiose plan to build a supposedly life-size replica of the fabled Noah’s Ark, to show people how it could have contained all the animals. “The 800-acre amusement park is supposed to feature a life-size Noah’s Ark built by Amish craftsmen, a walled city, a zoo featuring Noah’s animals, a Ten Plagues Ride, a Tower of Babel, a first-century village, an aviary and a children’s area.”
The ark project was due to be completed this spring, which would have benefited hugely from the scheduled release on March 28 of the Darren Aronofsky blockbuster film Noah starring Russell Crowe as the Arkmeister himself..
But things have ganged agley in a big way and construction on the project has not even started. For one thing, attendance has been steadily dropping every year at the Creation Museum, with just under 240,000 last year, an alarming 40% decline in just six years, thus eating into revenues. But that was not all its financial troubles.
The first phase of the project was to cost $73 million and $14 million had been raised initially. AiG then seems to have persuaded (suckered?) the town of Williamstown to issue a bond authorization for the rest, plus a 75% break in property taxes for 30 years. But only $26.5 million in bonds have been sold so far (and not to institutional investors, an always worrying sign) and another $29 million must be sold by February 6 in order to avoid triggering redemption of all the bonds already sold.
The catch is that the bonds are not backed by any assets, which explains why savvy institutional investors stayed away, leaving it up to the religious rubes to pony up for this scheme. Those who purchased it were expected to get their investment back from the revenues generated by the project. If it collapses, they are out of luck with no recourse.
In an executive summary sent to its supporters, Answers in Genesis makes the bonds sound like a decent investment. The group is offering bonds with 7-, 11-, and 15-year maturities, at yields between 5 and 6 percent. A 7-year bond starts at $250,000, while an 11-year bond begins at $50,000.
Tempting as those rates may seem, there’s a small catch. As Answers in Genesis readily admits, the bonds “are not expected to have any substantial secondary market” and are “not an obligation of AiG.” Somewhat alarmingly, the bonds are unrated, an indication that they’re extremely risky—and almost impossible to resell. High risk, higher yield: These, in essence, are creationist junk bonds.
Even if scores of naive congregations pool their money to support the project, Ham’s uncompromisingly grandiose vision seems to be careening toward failure. The ark park is Ham’s Xanadu, an extravagant vanity project born out of boundless narcissism and ambition.
Still, it is quite an achievement for Ham to have managed to get people to fork out over $40 million so far merely on the basis of a promise that the profits of this venture would be sufficient to pay them back.
Ham has now appealed to religious people to come up with the $29 million he still needs by February 6 saying, “We still need those Ark supporters who weren’t able to purchase the Ark bonds at closing to prayerfully consider participating in a secondary bond delivery at the level they had indicated to us”.
Who knows, they may double down on this crazy venture and actually come through for him. It would show the power of faith or, as it is otherwise known, gullibility.