Ed Reinke / AP
Published Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 | 6 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 | 6:46 p.m.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The founder of a Bible-themed museum who recently debated evolution with TV's "Science Guy" Bill Nye said Thursday that the widely watched event helped to boost enthusiasm among followers who invested in a project to build a 510-foot Noah's Ark.
In a webcast from the same Creation Museum stage where the debate took place, Ken Ham announced that the municipal bond offering has raised enough money to begin construction on the wooden ark, estimated to cost about $73 million. Groundbreaking is planned for May and the ark is expected to be finished by the summer of 2016.
"It did help," Ham said of the Feb. 4 debate with Nye. "We obviously had a big spurt toward the end (of the bond deadline), and I think it was people who were involved in this, who really decided they were going to do something."
Ham said he could not go into details about the bond investors. The bond registration ended before the debate date, so no new investors were added after it, said Mark Looy, a vice president and spokesman with Ham's ministry, Answers in Genesis.
Reached by phone Thursday, Nye said he was disappointed the project would go forward and said he hoped it "goes out of business."
"If he builds that ark, it's my strong opinion, it's bad for the commonwealth of Kentucky and bad for scientists based in Kentucky and bad for the U.S.," Nye said. "And I'm not joking, bad for the world."
Answers in Genesis unveiled the proposal in 2010 for a $150 million theme park that would include the ark. But private donations to the project did not keep pace with the construction timeline, forcing its backers to delay the ark's construction and divide the park development into phases. The bonds were offered by the city of Williamstown last year.
Ham's ministry and the Creation Museum enjoyed an avalanche of news media attention during the Feb. 4 debate with Nye on evolution and the Bible, which was streamed live on the Web. Answers in Genesis said millions around the world watched the event, and it was followed by numerous national news reports and TV talk show discussions.
Ham said the bond issue faced many obstacles, including what he called misleading news media reports and attempts by opponents to disrupt the bond offering. He said the high-profile debate helped shed light on the misinformation and emboldened the bond investors to press on and get the deal done. He said, however, that there was not a big boost in private donations for the project after the debate.
Looy said the bond total amount could not be disclosed, due to underwriter restrictions. But a December bond document describing the project listed the amount at $62 million. Looy said that figure is not correct, but he could not give the amount.
Ham has said the debate with Nye also introduced to a wider audience his ministry's views that the Bible's creation story is a true historical account. Those views, based on stories in the Old Testament, are illustrated by exhibits in the Creation Museum, which opened in 2007 and has been criticized by scientists as an affront to evolution science. Ham said Thursday that 2 million visitors have entered the museum since it opened.
Nye brushed off a question about whether he might be criticized for taking part in a debate that boosted fundraising for the ark.
"Me? I've always been criticized," he said. Nye added that he was skeptical the ark would ever be built, but said if it is, he has a challenge for the builders.
"I challenge them to try to float this ship, to try and make this a seaworthy ship," Nye said.
For several years, the ark project had been a sore subject for the ministry, which had raised about $14 million in private donations for the first phase of the theme park, according to the Ark Encounter website.
The municipal bonds were issued by the city of Williamstown, which will be the site of the ark park, about 40 miles south of Cincinnati. The bonds are to be repaid through revenue from the park, and the city is not liable for the money, according to bond documents.
The wooden ark would have old-world details, such as wooden pegs instead of nails, straight-sawed timbers and plenty of animals — some alive, some robotic.