WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. (WHAS11) – A year after the Ark Encounter in Northern Kentucky opened to visitors for the first time the owners are calling it a success, but controversy over funding and questions surrounding the separation of church and state remain.
After drawing more than one million visitors in the first year, it’s clear that people are flooding into the bible based attraction, and management says there are no signs that business is drying up.
"We encourage the nay-sayers to come here,” said Mark Looy. “They probably haven't had the opportunity to walk through and see what we believe."
While not exactly two by two visitors are flocking to the Ark Encounter from around the globe.
"I came all the way from New Jersey,” said Diane Monteleone.
"We were coming to visit our son who lives in Columbus,” said Nancy Younger. “We remembered to reading about it, and thought it would be something to do while we were all here together."
"Very few people are actually coming from our Tri-State area of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana,” said Looy. “You'll see California license plates, and a lot of Texas license plates, but a lot of international visitors here coming from all over."
That has helped the Ark Encounter become one of the largest employers in the county, and according to Looy, that's huge for the local economy.
"The best estimate is $200 million the first year,” said Looy. “I think it might be higher."
But in this case the rising tide may not raise all ships.
According to Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner, he's had to hire two more police officers, and six more firefighters to cover the Ark which putting a strain on the city's resources.
"It's not been as big of an economic boom as we expected primarily because we don't have the hotels, motels, and restaurants in Williamstown,” said Skinner.
"What's putting a cap on our attendance is the number of hotel rooms, they're lacking,” said Skinner. “If we had more hotels in Williamstown and the rest of Northern Kentucky we could handle more than 10,000 people."
"We're excited about the future, but right now the first year has been kind of slow for downtown and Williamstown,” said Skinner.
In an attempt to draw repeat business to the Ark Encounter, they are working on a Phase 2 which includes a $7 million auditorium scheduled to be completed sometime in the next year.
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