WILLIAMSTOWN, KY (WAVE) - Drones, a crane-operated camera, projection-screen video system, a full marching band and an octet of shofars provided the epic proportions you'd expect for the preview of what's billed as the largest timber structure in America.
But nature itself, in gray clouds and sprinkling drops delivered the Biblical backdrop that Acts in Genesis couldn't have bought for Ark Encounter, the controversial $86 million to $93 million re-creation of Noah's Ark expected to be both tourism attraction and demonstration of an absolutely literal interpretation of the Old and New Testaments.
"Did you like our special effects," AIG executive Mark Lody asked the crowd of 7,000 who, collectively, represented 43,000 families whose donations raised $33.5 million of the project's cost.
"We believe God has raised all of us up, all of these years, just for this," Ark Encounter founder Ken Ham said. "We didn't have the funds, we didn't have the expertise, but God called us to do it."
The Ark recreation measures 510 feet long, more than 80 feet wide and five stories high. It utilizes more than 3 million "board feet" of lumber in the superstructure and decking.
Though no live animals are aboard, an elaborate sound and sensory array evokes their presence, right down to the faint aroma of animal waste.
"That's one of the logistical questions everybody asks -- 'how do you manage the poop', said Dr. David Ensley, an Indiana OB/GYN who was explaining an elaborate system of drainage to his own son, Noah, age 12.
Ensley, who was raised a non-believer, embraced Christianity shortly after he married.
"I was science-based, all grounded in Evolution, but I saw that Biblical truths are possible," he explained. "People will take away different things."
"We are glad to have this in Kentucky," Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton (R-Bowling Green) told the preview crowd. "God is here today, and even if it rains, that's okay."
Gov. Matt Bevin's tacit endorsement of Ark Encounter represents a 180 degree shift from his predecessor, Democrat Steve Beshear, who withdrew a state tax incentive that could have been worth $43 million, based on attendance projections of 16,000 visitors per day and 2 million per year.
Bevin agreed to a package that could be worth $18.25 million, essentially a rebate of sales taxes spread across the next ten years.
"We worked out what the city can do, what the county can do, what the Ark can do," Williamstown Mayor Richard Skinner said. "We weren't always in agreement, but we made it work out."
Adult tickets range from $40 for a single-day pass to $175 for the season, according to the Ark Encounter website. Seniors age 60 and older will pay $31, children 5 to 12 $28. Children younger than 5 will be admitted free.
The Ark Encounter represents the second phase of an investment that began with the nearby Creation Museum, dedicated to a Biblical interpretation of Earth and human history. Expansion plans include a "First Century Walled City" detailing civilization prior to the Great Flood, a Tower of Babel, a petting zoo and a walk-through aviary.
Ham sees prophetic implications in the Encounter's planned opening July 7 (7/7). "Genesis chapter 7, verse 7 details the day Noah and his family boarded the Ark," he told a Christian publication in April.
The Encounter will operate in shifts the first 40 days and nights of operation; the length of the rains as told in Genesis. The day schedule will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., resuming from 5 p.m. to midnight. The attraction expects to employ 35 to 40 people year-round, and 300 to 400 seasonally, according to the website.
"Some people will see it just to see it, but this isn't Kings Island," said Radcliff's David Bollinger, whose visit with wife Sara coincides with their 20th wedding anniversary. "This is faith. This is truth."