The Ark Encounter To Proceed With Construction

The contrustion of the Ark is just one part of a large Ark Enounter park that will include many other future attractions.  The current funds allow the start of construction of phase I.

The construction of the Ark is just one part of a large Ark Encounter park that will include many other future attractions. The current funds allow the start of construction of phase I.

Last night in a public broadcast Ken Ham announced that enough funds have been obtained to break ground for the huge “evangelistic project” – the Ark Encounter.  The event was clearly designed to put-to-rest rumors that Answers in Genesis has run into money problems and that the project is in trouble.  I do think they rightly pointed out that there has been rampant speculation based on scant data.  I have to give them credit; they got enough funds to start the project against the predictions of many.  How much funding they have received was not actually revealed. They simply said that they had enough to “start” phase 1 of the Ark Encounter.  Evidently more funds will be needed to complete even the first phase which includes the Ark itself but it does seem likely that they will be able to build it. Its financial solvency beyond phase 1 is difficult to assess.

I have seen a lot of complaints about the bonds raised and the eager participation of city leaders to have the Ark built in their county. I really can’t blame those public officials.  There is no doubt that this will be an economic boon for an area with few other resources.  They don’t have to agree with the vision of Ken Ham to do business with them although I don’t think Ken Ham would return that favor.

In their videocast Ken Ham and associates attempted to set the record straight about stories that have been circulating about AIG’s finances and attendance at the Creation Museum. They still need a huge amount of money to pull off the Ark Encounter and so this, along with the recent Nye/Ham debate are ways to appease their donor base and assure them that their donations will be put to good use. During the videocast they railed against atheist who have spread false data about the Creation Museum.

Despite Ham’s complaints, I don’t think it is speculation to suggest that Ken Ham’s organization has seen better days and they are under enormous pressure to maintain and increase fundraising to survive.   Not that they are in the poorhouse either. They are clearly doing well and dominating all other creationists organizations fundraising efforts.   Technically, Answers in Genesis is not taking on more debt with the Ark Encounter because the latter is being run as a separate entity (Crosswater Canyon LLC – a for profit subsidiary of AIG) and if it should fail AIG is somewhat insulated from financial loss with the investors taking nearly all of the losses.  However, the Creation Museum itself is not self sufficient  and so AIG must continue to take in significant amounts of donations and sell large quantities of materials through its bookstore in order to maintain its operations.

I am not speculating. Assuming that AIG has faithfully reported their finances on 990 forms (check them out yourself) we know that attendance and donations have waned in recent years.  I have looked at creationist’s organization finances in the past (Evaluating the State of Creationism: Creationist Finances) but since then the 2011-2012 990 forms has been made available. I have examined that document and compared it with the two prior years that I can access.

Table 1.  Data gleaned from Answers in Genesis 990 forms spanning the years of 2009 through 2012.  My calculation of revenue per visitor is based on a simple calculation dividing the number of visitors by the total revenue.

Year Creation Museum
Revenue
Creation Museum
Visitors
Ave revenue
per visitor
Creation Museum Expenses Donations
2011-2012 $4,874,551 254,000 $17.28 $7,869,597 $7,124,102
2010-2011 $5,124,996 282,000 $18.17 $8,417,625 $7,164,561
2009-2010 $5,400,987 305,000 $17.70 $8,464,848 $8,300,000

The 2012-2013 form is not yet available but I am quite certain that attendance fell short of the 254,000 from the prior year (The 990 form says 282,000 but that seems to be a placeholder number from the year before since there are other reports from AIG that there were 254,000 that year).  AIG themselves made multiple public excuses for why attendance was down in 2013 including blaming the economy.  So I would guess that revenue was down as well.  When you consider they added several attractions that must have cost a million or more to construct, the losses last year probably exceeded those of the last several years.   Lower attendance is expected as they started at 440,000 the first year.  As long as they remain above 200,000/year they will be able to cover a good portion of the expenses.

The Creation Museum does not make money. They have run around a 3 million dollar deficit the three years I show above.  The difference is made up by the 7 million or more in donations they receive plus profits from their publishing unit.

Lets look a bit further back at the life-blood of AIG: the donations.  The figure below is a portion of the 990 form from 2009 and here we can see reported total donations and revenues for AIG going back to 2005.

AIG 2009 1099K form showing total revenues and donations for past years.

AIG 2009 Form 990 showing total revenues and donations for past years.

What you should note in the figure above combined with the numbers I gave earlier for donations in 2010-2012 is that donations are on a decidedly downward trend.  I should point out that the 2005 and 2006 where huge years because of the push to get the Creation Museum built and so one would expect that zeal for donations would wane quite a bit but the trend has continue well after the opening of the museum.

Revenues were higher in the first years of the Creation Museum (2007 and 2008) but have dropped off since.  In 2011/2012 revenues where about 14 million so were better than in 2009 probably aided a bit by an increase in admission prices.

You might wonder why donations haven’t increased if they have been pushing the Ark Encounter since 2010.  Those donations will not show up on these 990 forms because those donations go to the separate organization that files is own 990 forms (2011 one here).   That organization is a for-profit LLC (Crosswater Canyon) that is a wholly owed subsidiary of Answers in Genesis.

Ken Ham said that critics where wrong about revenues and attendance but the numbers certainly do suggest reduced attendance and revenue over the past 5 years.  I did notice that Ken Ham complained that sources where saying that revenues were down and responded by noting that attendance was up this year over last.   Well, what does that mean?  Is this year refer to just 2014 over 2013 at the same time? That is less than 2 months and AIG had the debate which drew big numbers and created a big buzz. Attendance is probably pretty poor in January every year so does attendance being up really mean anything in the big picture.  I notice that he never said that revenue is up. Remember that they are giving free admission to all kids 12 and under. This is NO small loss of revenue given their ticket prices. So attendance could be up and revenue could be down. The whole public announcement about the Ark Adventure was full of wording that was very nebulous. No numbers were given, just assurances to the faithful that everything is great and then another pitch for more donations.

It should be an interesting year.  Ground breaking will take place soon. How far they get will apparently depend on continued donations but it does look like this latest version of the Ark will be built.  Given the Creation Museum is a money drain on Answers in Genesis, unless the Ark Encounter can find a way to at least pay for itself with revenue brought in, it is hard to imagine how it will be able to continue.  AIG is not obligated to maintain this park. It seems that the park is supposed to support itself  (in fact expected to make a profit to repay its investors) but it won’t have the donation base that Answers and Genesis has which is the real life-blood of the operation.   Ken Ham claims that their research shows that the Ark Encounter will draw far larger numbers than the Creation Museum.  These estimates have to be right for it to have any chance of survival for they need to make money in order to build the other phases of the park which will provide enough attractions to make its long-terms survival more likely.  That is no small task. Keeping the donor base enthused will be crucial to its survival which is why the Answers in Genesis PR machine has been running on all cylinders the past couple of months.

Comments

  1. Why do you care whether AiG makes money or not, or how much it makes, or what it plans to do with its money. What does this have to do with your organization’s mission?

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    • I suppose it doesn’t matter if it makes money. It is a non-profit organization after all. Overall, I think that Christians should be concerned about so much money being given to promote a false gospel. If Ken Ham is promoting belief of a young earth as evidence of the truth of Christianity and he is wrong, as I believe he is, then I should be concerned as a Christian. For me to not care if Christians waste there their money would be wrong. Ken Ham wants to spend 73 million dollars on an park. Good intentions aside, it seems that there are many other ways that Christians could spend their money to advance the Kingdom. AIG is making it very difficult for other creationists organizations to do any research. What grants do they provide scientists to do research? The Ark Encounter is a very high risk venture and if it fails it will devastate many bond owners who believe int he project while the way the bonds are granted Ken Ham is insulated from the risk. He is asking people to spend a lot of money on his vision while incurring little personal financial risk. He and his family will always have the Creation Museum even if the Ark is a bust.

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      • Hi Rod, did you realize that the Ark Encounter is run by a for-profit LLC? I had forgotten. This was so they could use private equity fund raising but they expect to make a profit to be able to pay back the bonds. So profit is very important. They attendance projections are set to be able to produce profit unlike the Creation Museum which loses money. This is a far larger risk than the CM.

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        • Your approach here about AiG is so negative. Can’t you help yourself to stop trying to stifle the opposition and focus on the positive — the pluses of your views about Christianity? More and more, you remind me of the evolutionists, like Coyne, who mainly try to eliminate their opposition by bullying people and institutions, without ever really defending the substance of their views.

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          • I am sensitive to the fact that I don’t come across very positive on the blog. You haven’t heard my talks or know me personally and so you only see me through this light. Mostly the blog is written to friends and others as if they are friends. Of course it is public and so there will be misconceptions regarding my intent. You disagree with my content and so it seems you see it as bullying but my language is nothing like Coyne or others that simply make fun of creationists. Many of my friends are YECs and I have been an currently am a member of church that is dominated by YECS and yet have great relationships and would certainly not be seen as a negative person. Not sure what you mean by not defending the substance of my views, I rarely just talk but rather am analyzing specific writings and provide data to back up most of my claims. As an aside, are you equally offended by Ham’s bullying of anyone who disagrees with him or is he righteously doing so because he speaks the truth? If his interpretation is wrong I don’t think his attacks are defensible. I certainly am far milder in my criticism of his science than he is in mine. Regards, Joel

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