Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kentucky county that put financial hopes in Noah's Ark theme park is sinking in debt

Ark Encounter (Associated Press photo)
A Northern Kentucky county that put its financial future in the hands of a Noah's Ark theme park is sinking in debt. Desperate for a new revenue source, local officials in Grant County "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," Alan Greenblatt reports for Governing. "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."

The theme park expects to draw a million visitors annually, but visitors aren't spending as much as local officials had hoped, largely because there are few other attractions in the region to tempt people to stick around after visiting the park, Greenblatt writes. The main problems are a lack of hotels and restaurants to draw tourists into the local business districts, including Interstate 75. County Judge Executive Steve Wood told Greenblatt, “We haven’t had anything really built yet. That was probably wrong on our part.”

Grant County, Kentucky (Wikipedia map)
"The truth is that Grant County’s problems are largely its own fault," Greenblatt writes. "For two decades, county officials refused to raise taxes. Instead, to make up for funding shortfalls, they dipped into reserves, draining them by some $2 million over the past eight years. It was the jail that generated the most serious financial trouble. Deferred maintenance led to serious deterioration, with the state eventually deciding to pull its prisoners out of the county lockup altogether. That led to a substantial drop in revenue, prompting local arguments about whether it made more financial sense to close the jail or clean things up sufficiently to recapture housing fees from the state."

There is some hope, Greenblatt writes. "The city of Dry Ridge has just announced that two new hotels will be built over the coming year, along with some new restaurants. If tourists can be convinced to visit Grant County downtowns when they come to see the boat, that should bring in a few more dollars to help the county balance its books."

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