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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Roller Coasters Vs. Genesis: Creationist Museum Outside Cincinnati Had 22% 2009 Attendance Drop, King's Island Fell 4%

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Developers of the proposed Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Ky., need no polite reminders of how tourist attractions are affected by economic downturns.  All the reminders they need are in the publicly available tax returns of their own Creation Museum, which is located on the Bluegrass State side of suburban Cincinnati .  In its first full year of operation, the Creation Museum reported it pulled in "slightly over" 400,000 visitors to its exhibits showing dinosaurs living alongside humans on an earth created by God some 7,000 years ago.  The museum rejects the theory of evolution.  Year two, which ended June 30, 2009, saw a near 22% attendance drop-off to "roughly" 310,000 visitors.  The dip occurred in the throes of the Great Recession and many attractions across the U.S. suffered from down gates.  But the Christian exhibit did far worse than Disney -- whose theme parks managed to eke out gains in 2009.  Mickey Mouse & Co. somehow kept them coming.  So far, there is no tax return available for 2010; it is hard to know if the drop in interest at the Creation Museum has leveled off, turned the corner or benefited from a miraculous recovery.

Still, the proposed Ark park's co-developer, Answers in Genesis of Kentucky, is no Mickey Mouse operation.  In its first two years, it paid a combined $21 million in employee salaries and benefits.  It paid a combined $19 million in other expenses, such as office equipment, advertising and travel.  And there is no telling what kind of halo effect it had on all the gas stations and restaurants west of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

But if the museum's second-year tax return is any kind of guide, the recession has hurt.  Total revenue fell 12% to $20 million.  Contributions and grants fell 15% to $8.2 million.  Its ministry outreach program went from 399 seminars and 205,000 attendees to 288 seminars and 185,00 attendees.  And its revenues-minus-expenses line item (they don't call it profit) shrank from $2.1 million to $715,563.  Other interesting takeaways from the 2009 (most recently available) tax return:

  • CEO Ken Ham received $129,832 in salary and $46,186 in benefits and other compensation.
  • Ham had two daughters, a son and son-in-law on the payroll as staff members.
  • Takenbac Enterprises LLC of Hebron is listed as a general or managing partner.  Kentucky's Secretary of State office shows its "managers" to be James Hatton (AiG's chief financial officer), John Pence (AiG's general counsel) and a Dale Janssen.
From Theme Park Insider, you can see that Ohio's King's Island and Cedar Point did not have the attendance declines that hit the Creation Museum.  Obviously, a museum is not quite the same as a theme park, but the numbers offer some glimpse into the economy's impact.  Here are data about attendance rates for the Top 20 U.S. theme parks for 2009:

1. Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom: 17.2 million +1.0%
2. Disneyland: 15.9 million +8.0%
3. Epcot: 11.0 million +0.5%
4. Disney's Hollywood Studios: 9.7 million +1.0%
5. Disney's Animal Kingdom: 9.6 million +0.5%
6. Disney's California Adventure: 6.1 million +9.5%
7. SeaWorld Orlando: 5.8 million -6.8%
8. Universal Studios Florida: 5.4 million -12.0%
9. Islands of Adventure: 4.5 million -13.8%
10. Universal Studios Hollywood: 4.3 million -6.0%
11. SeaWorld San Diego: 4.2 million -12.6%
12. Busch Gardens Tampa: 4.1 million -12.3%
13. Knott's Berry Farm: 3.3 million -6.5%
14. Canada's Wonderland: 3.2 million -6.5%
15. Kings Island: 3.0 million -4.0%
16. Cedar Point : 2.9 million -8.0%
17. Busch Gardens Williamsburg: 2.9 million +3.7%
18. Hersheypark: 2.8 million -1.2%
19. Six Flags Great Adventure: 2.6 million -4.6%
20. Six Flags Magic Mountain: 2.5 million -2.5%
(tie) Six Flags Great America: 2.5 million -6.3%


  1. Interest article, Bill. I like your in-depth treatment of stories, which just is not done much in, say, the Cincinnati Enquirer.

    Well, museums are not really in the same category as amusement parks. The best comparison would be to a new museum, because attendance ALWAYS drops off a lot in the second and subsequent years for a new museum. So a couple other comparisons would be interesting. First, the first two years (sounds like you only have two years of data for the Creation Museum) with the first two years for the National Underground Freedom Center and for the Rock and Roll Museum. And second, it would be interesting to see the attendance numbers for all three museums side by side for the last two years, along with the numbers for the Cincinnati Museum Center. Current executive salaries for all 4 would also be interesting.

    Concerning the Great Recession, these types of attractions (theme parks like Kings Island and museums) are SOMEWHAT recession-proof. They are cheap entertainment for people who decide to do a "stay-cation" instead of a "vacation." Also, many more people have time available to go there (they are unemployed). Economists first noted this phenomenon in the 1930s when the movie theaters were filled.

  2. Recession or not, I am slightly amazed that anyone, least of all roughly 310,000 people, would travel and pay to see a museum dedicated to the notion that everything is 7000 years old, max.This includes the fossils dug up in excavating the museum's site. Ditto the bones found at nearby Big Bone Lick State Park with its mastodon remains.

  3. From the latest Gallop Poll on Creationism* (June, 2007): 39% believe it is definitely true; 27% believe it is probably true; 16% believe it is probably not true; 15% believe it is definitely not true. So for a majority of Americans, creationism is not some weird concept.

    * the idea that God created the world within the last 10,000 years.

  4. Americans believe UFOs are real, too. Gallup 1997: 48% real; 33% imaginary; 45% said visited earth. Roper 2002: 56% real; 48% said visited earth. To rephrase your words Mr. Hagedorn, So for a majority of Americans, UFOs are not some weird concept.

  5. In that Gallup poll 66% thot creationism was definitely or probably tru and 53% thot the evolution was definitely or possible true:).

  6. According to my own personal anecdotal evidence, half of all Americans are in the bottom 50%.