A group that wants to build a Noah's Ark theme park in Grant County won preliminary approval Tuesday of state tax incentives of as much as $18.25 million to keep the controversial project afloat.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority voted unanimously to give preliminary approval of the incentives for the $73 million first phase of the biblical theme park.
An independent consultant for the state will take six to eight weeks to review the project. It then will come back to the state panel for final consideration of tax incentives.
Three years ago, the group, Ark Encounter, won approval of incentives for its entire $172.5 million project. Because of funding problems, it withdrew that application and now is seeking approval for $73 million.
Ark Encounter is applying to participate in a program that allows eligible tourism attractions a rebate of as much as 25 percent of the investment in the project. For this application, rebates from the state would be as much as $18.25 million.
The park is scheduled to open in summer 2016. Groundbreaking is set for next week.
Ark Encounter is affiliated with Answers in Genesis, which developed and operates the Creation Museum in Boone County. It follows a literal interpretation of the Bible and the belief, unlike science, that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
Terry Sebastian, a spokesman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said, Beshear "is glad the project received preliminary approval today by the authority, and we wish the project success as it continues toward final approval to bring tourism and economic activity to Northern Kentucky."
Dave Muscato, a spokesman for American Atheists, said he was disappointed that the state panel gave preliminary approval to the Ark Encounter incentives.
"It's absolutely inappropriate and unconstitutional for the state to promote a religious view. This park will promote bad things, false things, and will give the impression that government is supporting this," Muscato said.
Asked whether his New Jersey-based group would sue to try to stop the use of the tax incentives, Muscato said, "We have not explored whether to legally challenge this, but that is not off the table."