Kentucky Noah’s Ark park developer may alter religious worker rules

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. The leader of a group that successfully sued Kentucky to get tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark-themed attraction said on Saturday that the religious organization may hire individuals who do not completely share his religious beliefs.

Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, said during a tour of the 510-foot (155 meters) boat that officials are still working on the employment criteria for its Ark Encounter attraction located in the northern Kentucky city of Williamstown.

Answers in Genesis employees must sign a faith statement that includes believing in creationism, a requirement that led state officials to pull an $18 million offer in tax incentives in December 2014 and prompted a court battle.

Ark Encounter on the other hand will have a separate statement of faith that may not have the same religious requirement, Ham said.

The statement has not been finalized and will likely be made public within months ahead of its July opening, he said. He said the attraction will hire up to 40 full-time workers and 400 seasonal workers.

“It’s a separate facility,” Ham said. “But we are not giving up our right to hire people with religious preferences.”

Last month, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction saying the group could hire based on religious practices and receive incentives. The state has said it will not appeal.

Ham said he sees the park as a major economic development project for the surrounding area, creating thousands of jobs that may not need such requirements.

Construction crews must add the bow and stern to the mammoth wooden ship, which is supported on the inside by dozens of 55-foot (17 meter) wooden poles. Eventually the ark will include more than 130 displays, including Noah’s living quarters and models of animals.

Elsewhere, the site will include a petting zoo, a large restaurant and a zipline.

The incentives would go toward future attractions at the 800-acre (324 hectare) site, such as a Tower of Babel or a first-century Middle Eastern village. Developers must wait for the injunction to become permanent before seeking final approval, Ham said.

Answers in Genesis co-founder Mark Looy said more than 4,000 people have made reservations for the July 7 opening, and developers expect more than 1.4 million to tour the park in its first year.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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