FRANKFORT — Gov. Steve Beshear defended state tax incentives that could surpass $37 million for a religious theme park in Northern Kentucky, saying Wednesday he's happy to lend state support to a business that will bring hundreds of jobs.
State involvement in the $150 million project brought outrage from groups focused on the separation of church and state, but Beshear said there was nothing "remotely unconstitutional" about the proposal.
"The people of Kentucky didn't elect me governor to debate religion," Beshear said. "They elected me governor to create jobs."
Beshear announced plans for the park, called Ark Encounter, in a Capitol news conference. The centerpiece of the proposed park is a 500-foot-by-75-foot wooden ark built to replicate the biblical Noah's Ark.
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The Answers in Genesis group, which started the Creation Museum that opened in Petersburg in May 2007, will handle daily operations of the theme park, expected to be completed by 2014. A Grant County official said it would be built on 800 acres off Interstate 75 south of Williamstown.
Ark Encounter will include the ark, live animals, event venues and a children's play area, among other things. The ark will be made of various types of wood and capable of floating.
The project is expected to create more than 900 full- and part-time jobs after its completion and attract 1.6 million visitors in the first year, with the number increasing after five years.
Beshear said the park could have a $214 million economic impact in the first year and bring $250 million into the state by the fifth year.
Answers in Genesis' Creation Museum is based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, showing visitors how the world was created in six, 24-hour days 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. It has dinosaurs next to depictions of Adam and Eve.
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