UPDATED 7/25/17 - Officials with the Ark Encounter attraction in Grant County have transferred ownership of the property for the second time in a matter of weeks.
The transfer is expected to restore the property to its previous for-profit status.
Last week attorneys for the facility featuring a gigantic Noah’s Ark were negotiating with the city of Williamstown over a 50-cent-per-ticket fee to help pay for additional police and fire services.
In the midst of the already-unsettling discussions, Mayor Rick Skinner learned the for-profit Ark Encounter had transferred the property to a non-profit affiliate.
“Basically it was a quit-claim deed transferring it to Crosswater Canyon which says they’re a non-profit. Not sure the reasons behind it.”
At the time, the mayor expressed a concern that the operators of the Ark were making the move to get out of the 50-cent fee and possibly avoid paying taxes altogether.
Days after discovering the transfer to the non-profit Crosswater Canyon, the state’s agency that regulates tourism issued a statement cancelling a promised tax rebate worth up to $18 million.
“It came to our attention they had done this quit claim deed, transferring from a for-profit to a non-profit and in doing so the company became in violation of that agreement.”
Laura Brooks, communications director for the state agency, says the Ark Encounter was notified it was in violation of the agreement that established a tax incentive worth up to $18 million.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Ark Encounter officials have made another transfer of the property, restoring the facility to its original for-profit status.
In a statement released Tuesday, officials with the Ark Encounter reaffirmed their intention to pay into the safety fund, suggesting a yearly cap of $500,000.
Ark Encounter statement below:
Statement regarding the Safety Tax and the Ark Encounter
Williamstown, Kentucky, July 25, 2017
"Unfortunately, much misinformation and many falsehoods have been disseminated by reporters and bloggers about the Ark Encounter and its relationship with the Williamstown city council and a safety tax the council imposed on the Ark.
"The Ark has never stated it would not pay into the fund.
"In frequent discussions with the city over the last three months, Ark Encounter leadership had proposed that the fee be capped, and recently suggested a maximum of a half million dollars per year. Ark representatives made it clear that it had concerns about the fairness of the city ordinance, for it makes the Ark Encounter bear almost the entire load for the increased funding to cover Williamstown's budget for police, fire, and EMS. This is a city of 4,000 residents.
"Ark Encounter leadership has agreed to meet the requirement of the ordinance. Since July 1, the Ark has been adding 50 cents to each ticket purchase, to meet the requirement of the ordinance. Ark officials have tried to negotiate what they believed was a fair approach, rather than an open-ended one to the safety tax, and still meet the city's needs.
"The filing for an exemption as a religious non-profit (as permitted in the ordinance), was done in an attempt to get the county to change the wording as it currently stands, which would exempt the Ark Encounter. It was not to avoid paying its fair share, as some articles have suggested."
"The Ark was offering to pay up to $500,000 a year into the safety fund. The city rejected the offer.
To date, more than one million guests have visited the Ark, yet thankfully, calls for emergency services—to both Williamstown and Dry Ridge—have been few in number, averaging about 2 per week.It should also be noted that a user fee is often charged to an individual's personal insurance for the cost of local medical emergency services' response to the Ark.
"There has been much false speculation about the matter over a deed. The Ark Encounter, LLC, operates as a non-profit because it is wholly owned by a non-profit (the LLC is a pass-through entity for tax purposes), which is in turn owned by non-profit Answers in Genesis. To resolve any issues over the recent change in title for the Ark Encounter property, the property has been conveyed back to the Ark Encounter, LLC, and that deed has been recorded.
"Grant County has benefitted enormously from Ark tourism. In Dry Ridge, many hotels, restaurants, and other tourist-related businesses are flourishing. In a spirit of cooperation, we encourage the city of Williamstown to work with more hotel developers and restaurant brands to build in the area. For its part, when Ark staff attend various civic functions, they frequently encourage entrepreneurs to build in Williamstown.
"Summary: The safety-tax matter has been highly misrepresented. The Ark has always been willing to pay into the safety fund, suggesting a yearly cap of a half million dollars per year."
Mark Looy, Chief Communications Officer, Answers in Genesis
For more information about AiG, visit www.AnswersInGenesis.org. The Ark website, with video and photos, iswww.ArkEncounter.com. Media resources are available online at www.arkencounter.com/press. - 30 -