After state suspends tax break, Noah’s Ark park transfers land back to for-profit entity

Three days after state tourism officials suspended an $18 million tax incentive, officials at a Noah’s Ark theme park have sold their main parcel back to their for-profit entity for $10.

The issue started in late June after Ark Encounter LLC sold the parcel to its non-profit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon for $10. The deed continues to describe the property as worth $18 million even though the Grant County PVA has assessed the land for $48 million.

Ark Encounter officials have declined to say why they sold the property in the first place, but the move in June coincided with their refusal to pay a safety assessment tax levied by the city of Williamstown. City officials worried that the sale might be the first step in the ark park claiming non-profit status, which would exempt it from property taxes.

But on July 18, state tourism officials said the land sale breached the sales tax rebate incentive agreement, which was with Ark Encounter LLC, not Crosswater Canyon.

On July 21, the parcel was switched back to Ark Encounter LLC, again for $10. The assessment still lists the property as being worth $18 million.

On Monday, Mark Looy, the co-founder of Answers in Genesis, the parent body of both Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, said the group needed “to keep our options open to protect the organization for the future,” but did not explicitly explain the two property transfers.

“We have always said we want to pay our fair share for safety services, and believed we had made a highly reasonable counter proposal to the city council,” Looy said in a statement. “It has always been our desire to be a partner in helping to grow the economy of a community that welcomed us so kindly. We are saddened that the city council did not extend the courtesy of discussing this ordinance with us before passing it and taking it public, and was not willing to negotiate further.”

Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner has said that the city council would like to talk more with Ark officials, but so far, the two sides have not met. The council rejected the Ark’s offer of a $350,000 cap on the safety tax. Based on the Ark’s stated attendance of 1 million people this year, the tax would have brought in $700,000.

Neither state tourism officials nor Skinner were immediately available for comment on Monday.

The Ark Encounter received a series of state and local tax incentives to locate in Grant County.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford