A planned 500-foot-long wooden replica of Noah's ark that has been the center of much controversy in recent years is beginning to take shape in a Northern Kentucky pasture.
The third wooden "rib" of the ark was raised into place Thursday as members of the media toured the 800-acre site of the future tourist attraction, dubbed Ark Encounter.
Ken Ham, president of the parent company of Ark Encounter, explained the process by likening the ark to a loaf of bread, with each rib, or "bent," representing a slice of the loaf.
The ark doesn't yet have a specific debut date, but backers hope to complete the structure next summer, said Ham, the head of Answers in Genesis.
"Obviously we're not trying to compare it to the Disneys and the Universals," Ham said. "But outside of the big guys ... this is going to be one of the biggest attractions in America."
In addition to a large concrete pad for the ark to rest on, about 1 million cubic feet of dirt has been moved to make way for a large parking lot, Ham said.
As construction continues on the $73 million theme park, so does a legal battle between Answers in Genesis and the state.
Answers in Genesis sued Kentucky tourism officials in February, saying the state violated the group's free speech rights by withdrawing an $18 million tax incentive package. The state disqualified the project over concerns that its hiring requirements would discriminate based on religion.
"It's very, very obvious that what the state is doing is wrong," Ham said Thursday. "If we let them get away with this, then little by little you lose those (religious) freedoms as a nation."
Despite the pending litigation, Answers in Genesis is going forward with construction on what Ham says will be the largest timber-frame structure in the world.
Ham said he expects the Ark Encounter to attract about two million people to the state per year and increase attendance at the Creation Museum, which is also operated by Answers in Genesis in Northern Kentucky, by 400,000.
However, an economic impact study of the project used by the state projected just under 500,000 visitors to Grant County in its first year. The number of visitors would swell to about 650,000 in year three before settling to about 400,000 a year by the end of the decade.