Ky. ‘Ark Park’ Flip-Flops Over Tax Status Amid Ticket-Fee Dispute

An effort to dodge a local tax led the owners of the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky to flip-flop from being a for-profit endeavor to a nonprofit, and back again, over the course of a month.

The Noah’s-Ark-themed attraction founded by Australian creationist Ken Ham balked at the town of Williamstown’s plan to add a 50-cent surcharge onto the price of each Ark Encounter ticket. Tickets at the park cost $28 to $40, and city officials said the safety fee was intended to raise an estimated $700,000 per year to help pay for fire, police and other emergency services.

After the town declined to accept lesser amounts from Ark Encounter or to grant the theme park a religious exemption from the fee, Ark Encounter sold its main parcel of land, a piece of property assessed at $48 million, for $10 to its nonprofit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon. Williamstown officials feared the park was not only trying to avoid paying the safety fee but would also try to get out of paying property taxes in the future, reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.

But Ark Encounter’s plan backfired when the property transfer and new nonprofit status triggered the Kentucky Arts, Heritage and Tourism Cabinet to freeze distribution of $18 million in sales-tax rebates the park receives.

Eager to get the subsidy back, Ark Encounter officials quickly reversed course and transferred the land back to for-profit status. In addition, Ark Encounter has grudgingly agreed to pay Williamstown’s safety fee. 

Officials at the park insisted they had done nothing wrong.