I must admit a certain quiet disappointment with our local government officials. To a person they dress and speak well. I’m sure they are very kind to their pets. But with all due respect, they haven’t done squat to diversify the local economy.
Hello? We may very well be entering an era of chronic state job cuts. Who is going to buy all of the foreclosed homes that result? How will the freeway off-ramps accommodate the legions of new pan-handlers with MPA degrees?
We deserve at least as good of a fate as Lake Wobegon. So I would like to offer a modest proposal that could make our county a magnet for tourist dollars from around the world.
All we need is $20 million. It doesn’t even have to be all public dollars. County commissioners might approach The McClatchy Company to see if this public-spirited conglomerate has an interest in joining an innovative public-private partnership that could generate more revenue for its recent acquisition, The Olympian.
Let’s join hands and make a play for the “Ark Encounter” creationist theme park. The LEO Weekly in Kentucky reports that developers are having trouble raising the $24.5 million needed to complete their project. So far they have pulled in only $4 million.
If you are a typical unwashed hippie you might be inclined to dismiss such a biblical idea. You’d rather see something green themed? Understandable sentiment, but that’s not where the real money is. We’re trying to save our homes, folks.
Also remember that we have a solid precedent for spending big money. Olympia has committed $7.9 million in Public Facilities District dollars and $1 million in lodging tax revenue to a $18 million Hands On Children’s Museum. For just $6 million more, our community could be the proud home of a theme park that may generate far more tourist dollars than just another kid’s museum along life’s highway.
As another point of comparison, Ark Encounter is only $2.5 million more than the $22 million cost of the Minnaert Center for the Arts at South Puget Sound Community College. If that still sounds like a lot of money, note that Ark Encounter would be less than half the $52.8 million construction cost of the Wenatchee Town Toyota Center, a 4,300-seat arena.
Indeed, we could turn the East Bay into a tourist mecca by placing the Ark Encounter right next to the children’s museum. Check out an artist’s rendering of the proposed theme park. Now close your eyes and picture a full-sized replica of Noah’s Ark towering above the museum along the water front.
It’s going to take a concerted effort to liberate this project from Kentucky, which has promised generous state and local tax incentives. Here is where McClatchy comes in.
The for-profit developers of the Ark Encounter could clearly benefit from more managerial savvy. Like knowing how to cut corners to generate a profit. That’s McClatchy’s forte, as can be seen by its boa constrictor-like digestion of The Olympian into the News Tribune’s operations. So how about if McClatchy buys a major stake in the developer, Answers in Genesis, and renames the theme park The Olympian’s Ark Encounter.
Imagine the opportunities for elevating The Olympian’s visibility. The paper’s operations could be moved into a zoo-like, glass-encased newsroom inside the proposed Tower of Babel. Or, even better, the Ark — which would be the largest timber-frame structure in the country.
Newspaper content could be recast from local coverage to a new mission — national news from a biblical perspective. Bring in conservative columnist Cal Thomas as the editor. That could be a prescient marketing move given the very real potential for the Republicans to take control of Congress and the presidency in 2012. If that happens you can expect creationist school curricula to mushroom in national popularity.
Best of all, if the venture fails McClatchy is a big enough political player in this state that it should be more successful in getting a bailout than the Wenatchee arena, which recently defaulted on $42 million in bonds. After all, one of the most-important rules in politics is that you don’t oppose anyone who buys ink by the barrel.
Of course, that doesn’t mean such a project is completely riskless. New York Times reporter Ken Belson deserves a Nattering Nabobs of Negativism Award for dissing the well-meaning efforts of local communities to build job-creating entertainment complexes.
But remember that economic development is akin to Tinkerbell — if you stop believing it will fade away.