A Kentucky-based creationist group named Answers in Genesis has raised almost half of the estimated $24.5 million it will take to build an ark as the first phase of Ark Encounter, an attraction that would eventually feature a 510-foot long ark, a petting zoo and a replica of the Tower of Babel.
Almira sees his ark as a place where people of all faiths could pray or meditate, a space where animals could interact with guests, and an after-school program.
“It has nothing to do with any specific religion,” he said.
Aguila speaks fervently about the ark as a symbol of humankind’s salvation.
“It would be our dream to have the pope come to our inauguration,” he said, standing in the shadow of Luyanó, the elephant statue they named after a Havana neighborhood. In a way, Luyanó is the ark’s first animal rescue. It was donated by a local man who ran afoul of neighbors and Miami-Dade County officials by displaying the pachyderm in his front yard.
The ark builders have their own problems with bureaucratic authorities. The county has cited the ark builders for working without permits. Structures on the property include the ark, a wooden shed serving as an office and a metal storage container.
Aguila said they’ve appealed three $500 citations, but will pay if necessary. He said they intend to follow the law and meet all requirements.
“We just didn’t know,” he said. “We started building without knowing what we needed to do.”
The group has since consulted with Doral-based architectural design firm Building Permits Miami.
“I gave them advice because they had violations,” said architect Darly Leon, who thinks the permitting process could take six months to a year and construction could take up to two years.
The ark builders cannot be accused of thinking small. They are contemplating expanding beyond the current five acres, either by purchasing adjacent land or moving to a larger lot somewhere nearby. That would mean disassembling the existing hull, moving the lumber and rebuilding.
The four remain optimistic about their vision, which includes setting up cameras to allow Web-streaming from the ark.
Access to the stream would be available through a Hidden Ark membership, which was available for a brief time on the website www.hiddenark.com for $3.99 a month. (Told that raises still more zoning issues, they decided to no longer offer memberships. For now.)
Ultimately, Aguila envisions having people from across the globe join Hidden Ark, of assembling a membership roll so large that it would keep admission to the ark free and still cover the cost of the operation, including an on-site veterinarian and a restaurant.
“This isn’t just for the community,” he said. “It’s for the entire world.”