Beyond the life-size animatronic dinosaurs, cutting-edge Stargazers Planetarium and unique walk through biblical history, the Creation Museum is also home to the headquarters of one of the area’s most heavily funded nonprofits — Answers in Genesis.

Founded in 1994 by president Ken Ham, chief communications officer Mark Looy and museum vice president Mike Zovath, Answers is an apologetics ministry that dedicates itself to defending the Christian faith by answering questions that surround the Book of Genesis, arguably one of the most attacked books in the Bible.

While Answers has been criticized for its conservative and evangelistic approach to interpreting the Bible, its economic footprint is growing.

According to Looy, one of the ministry’s co-founders, in addition to the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Answers has a variety of media outlets and attractions that enable them to deliver their message effectively, and in a way that interests people of different religions and backgrounds from all over the world.

> Positive Response

“We’re so encouraged by the positive response from our visitors,” he says. “We get that even from people who aren’t necessarily following what we do here.”

In addition to the museum, Answers produces DVDs and books (so many, in fact, that they are UPS’ biggest customer in the Northern Kentucky region the month preceding Christmas).

They also publish a quarterly magazine called Answers, which has a subscription base of 1,500 subscribers per month and is growing. And they publish the Answers Bible Curriculum, which is a three-year Sunday school program designed for all age levels, from preschoolers to adults.

Answers in Genesis produces a daily radio show feature called Answers…with Ken Ham which airs on 860 domestic stations and more than 450 international outlets. Additionally, they host more than 350 teaching events across the United States each year, along with banquets and weddings in their recently added 1,000-seat Legacy Hall, located inside the Creation Museum. Looy says that Answers takes groups on teaching tours each year to the Grand Canyon where Answers’ employed geologists explore the relationship between geology and creation. The Creation Museum is also home to the research labs and offices of Answers’ astronomers, biologists, geneticists and researchers.

> Building Noah’s Ark

In addition to its 200 employees and more than 120,000 active contributors and resource customers, Answers will expand further, with the creation of the Ark Encounter, a historically themed attraction dedicated to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the Flood.

Plans center around a full-scale, 500-foot, all-wood ark. Other attractions will include a of Walled City, a replica of the Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village, walk-through aviary and large petting zoo. There will also be daily live mammal and bird shows, interactive children’s area, live entertainment, restaurants and shops.

Answers’ Director of Museum Design Patrick Marsh will head the Ark Encounter operation, using 35 years of experience in art directing to create the themed attraction. Marsh’s designs are world-renowned, and in addition to the Creation Museum include the popular Jaws and King Kong attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

“Virtually the same talented team that built the museum is back for the Ark,” Looy says. “With his [Marsh’s] creativity meeting with his theme park experience, we’ve created an educational but fun attraction for the family.”

According to Todd Cassidy, a member of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet, a “fun attraction for the family” is just what the Ark Encounter is, though there has been some debate about its state tax incentives violating the separation of church and state.

“It’s an entertainment facility,” Cassidy says. “It’s a park that you would go to with your family. It allows outside groups, there’s retail involved, an aviary, and of course, the Ark. Based upon the information given to us, there’s also been a large interest nationwide.”

According to a study done by Hunden Strategic Partners, the Ark Encounter should attract tourists from all over the nation, as well as Canada, because of its central location, which will be in Grant County, Ky. (just under an hour from the Creation Museum in Petersburg and within a day’s drive from nearly two-thirds of the population of the U.S.)

According to the study, the Ark Encounter is projected to have an impact of more than $100 million within 10 years of opening. It is expected to annually generate at least 3,000 new full-time equivalent jobs, of which 600 to 700 full-time and nearly 200 part-time are expected to be at the park itself.

To earn the approval of the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, the Ark Encounter had to include recreation or entertainment facilities, attract a minimum number of out-of-state visitors and have a significant eonomic impact on the state.

“The Tourism Development Act was set in place to encourage economic development with the ability [for Ark Encounter] to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over 10 years, through the recovery of sales tax generated in the park,” Cassidy says.

> The Controversy

Gov. Steve Beshear has backed the project, pledging to make these tax incentives available to the park, because of the projected jobs and economic impact.

But Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst for Americans United, a group dedicated to defending church-state separation, the Ark Encounter could deter science-oriented businesses from coming to Kentucky.

“You’re talking 900 jobs, but if you’re selling hot dogs at minimum wage for half a year, and you’re losing thousands of high-tech jobs because of it, you’re not really gaining anything,” he says. “Giving government assistance to a project like this is a violation of the separation of church and state.”

“All religious projects should be funded voluntarily,” Boston says. “In this economic climate, some governments grasp at any straw they can to create jobs, but they still should rely on private funding.”

Looy says the $172 million project will be a collaboration between Ark Encounters LLC, a private company in Springfield, Mo., and Answers, which will contribute $24.5 million.

“Ark Encounters is a for-profit organization that employed us to design the Ark and build it, and also to own and operate day-to-day, because we already have experience [with the Creation Museum],” he says.

Cassidy agrees that the state isn’t doing anything wrong with approving the project.

His office has spent time examining the situation and determined the park “was not established to benefit the religious organization,” he says. “You review their application as you would any other.”

Regardless of differing opinions, there’s no arguing that Answers will be making its next footprint in spring 2014, except this time in the shape of a 500-foot long wooden ark. ■