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Bible Park U.S.A.

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Depictions of Moses standing before a burning bush and Noah's Ark are envisioned as theme attractions at a "Bible Park U.S.A." proposed for Rutherford County.

Developers of the $150-300 million educational and non-evangelical park expect to hire 200 to 300 fulltime employees and 500 to 1,000 seasonal employees, said Armon Bar-Tur, managing director and co-founder of SafeHarbor Holdings LLC of New York City.

Holly Sears, chamber director of economic development, said developers expect 800,000 to one million visitors annually.

Bar-Tur presented a concept of the park Friday to Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce board members, Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess and county commissioners, city officials from Murfreesboro, Smyrna, La Vergne and Eagleville, and the county's state legislators during a meeting at Smyrna Town Centre.

While the location has not been confirmed, two county commissioners and several homeowners told The Murfreesboro Post the concept plan is targeted off Blackman Road near Interstate 24. Bar-Tur said the park would need about 50 to 150 acres with about half needed for parking.

Blackman resident Al Demumbreum, who said he lives across from the proposed 240-acres Shelton farm site, said he'd rather have the theme park than 240 houses.

County Mayor Ernest Burgess said if developed in the county, the park would provide an economic boon to the county. Before becoming a reality, Burgess said the county must address traffic, noise, water and sewer issues that could be worked out.

"I do personally feel this project will be of great benefit," Burgess said.

In an interview, Burgess said he expects SafeHarbor to continue evaluating the project and "crunching their numbers about costs and prospective services" before deciding on a definite location.

"Although it's yet to be determined, it's probable it could be in the county," Burgess said, explaining the county could receive all of the local option sales tax from the park. After the basic services such as roads and water, Burgess doesn't believe the park will require many county services.

In his presentation, Bar-Tur said the park will show "visual story of the Bible" independent of religion. Visitors will enter the gates of Jericho leading to Jerusalem. A moat will connect the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee. A museum will highlight, "The Bible — the Greatest Adventure." One anchor ride will allow visitors a simulated helicopter ride over Jerusalem.

"This will be an incredible experience for all ages," Bar-Tur said.

An Agape Tent will allow visitors to eat authentic Middle Eastern food.

The Old Testament part will feature a Tree of Life with stories told throughout the park. In the Exodus story, developers envision 25-foot high "waves of water" rising at each side with Moses standing in front of a large inferno to represent the burning bush.

Noah's Ark will have a full-sized ark with a "Two by Two Theater Experience." Several fun rides will be offered.

The New Testament section will feature the Sight and Sound Theater from Pennsylvania to act out stories from the Bible. Designers propose a stone tablet wall inscribed with the New Testament. Church members may conduct Bible study in the area.

A Dome of the Light will host a museum with the exhibits such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and a recording studio where churches may record CDs to bring back to their church.

"Maybe we'll have a battle of the choirs," Bar-Tur said.

The teen area will feature a dark, indoor roller coaster, coffee house and sports center.

SafeHarbor is sponsoring its first Hard Rock theme park that is expected to open next year in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Bible theme park is the first one proposed by SafeHarbor.

Bar-Tur believes the park will result in a significant economic impact to the county.

Rob Lyons, Murfreesboro's assistant city manager, said the presentation was a "very exciting opportunity for Rutherford County with more work and study to come. This project is looking at Rutherford County and we believe the project would have a very positive impact for all of us."

Sears said elected officials must create a tourism or entertainment district for the site and zoning must be addressed. She received positive feedback after the meeting.

Chamber President Steve Benefield said the park is another opportunity to diversify the economy and create new revenues for county government. He compared the park to King's Island near Cincinnati, Six Flags Over Georgia or the Disney Parks in Orlando, Florida.

Benefield expects visitors from all over the world that will spend tourism dollars in the county. He hopes they will also visit other tourism sites like Stones River National Battlefield and the Sam Davis Home.

The park will create hotel, restaurant, shopping and service jobs too.

"We have for years and years described tourism as being a clean industry," Benefield said. "It brings people into the community, allows them to spend their disposable income and go back to where they may live. It's a very positive opportunity for our community."

Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at lmarchesoni@murfreesboropost.com.
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Members Opinions:
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
"Mrs. Ape, as was her invariable rule, took round the hat and collected nearly two pounds. 'Salvation doesn't do them the same good if they think its free' was her favourite axiom." (Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies)
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
Line this puppy up behind the baseball stadium and the NASCAR racetrack. All you have to do is imagine turning 840 into another Briley Parkway and this idea sounds dumb. But--- for a city that is struggling for an identity this would shift it a little more toward a blend of Clarksville and Pigeon Forge.
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
What about them being exempt from taxes? Will that happen here?

TALLAHASSEE - A biblical theme park in Orlando where guests pay $30 admission to munch on "Goliath" burgers and explore reproductions of 2000-year-old tombs and temples could get a property tax exemption written into state law.

A Senate committee easily passed a bill that would grant theme parks "used to exhibit, illustrate, and interpret biblical manuscripts ... " an exemption from local property taxes, like churches, even though the parks charge money.

The legislation is designed to resolve a tax dispute between Holy Land Experience and the Orange County property appraiser, but legislative staffers say the exemption could encourage the development of other parks to take advantage of the tax break.

The 15-acre Orlando park recently won its challenge against Orange County, which has appealed the case. The nonprofit, which would owe about $300,000 in property taxes each year, argued that the park helps finance its Christian ministry.

But the property appraiser argues the nonprofit should pay taxes on the money-producing park, just like Disney World or Universal Orlando, with its pricey tickets and $5 parking fees.

Calls to Holy Land Experience were not returned.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, says the bill really only applies to Holy Land Experience and said it would be difficult for another park to meet the "stiffly worded" criteria.

Yet, when a Pensacola park dedicated to creationism learned of the Webster bill Tuesday it promptly sent an emissary to Webster's office to find out how it could qualify for the same tax break.

Dinosaur Adventure Land, devoted to demonstrating that the Bible proves dinosaurs and humans coexisted, displays pages from ancient Bibles and "biblical accounts of dinosaurs," said Creation Science Evangelism founder Kent Hovind, who also goes by "Dr. Dino."

Dinosaur Adventure Land is a nonprofit but is organized under a different section of the IRS code than Holy Land Experience. A director with Creation Science Evangelism said the group won't change its IRS designation, but will see about getting the Webster bill tweaked to include it too.

So far, there doesn't appear to be any organized opposition to the bill, which sailed through a Senate committee Tuesday with no debate. The bill has a House companion, which has yet to be heard in a committee.

Calls to theme park competitors Disney World and Busch Gardens befuddled spokesmen who said they hadn't heard of the bill.

However, Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan said the bill smacks of tax abuse and wondered if it was discriminatory.

"There are churches out there that have bookstores and sell some Bibles and that's not what this is about, this is a theme park that charges $30 admission," said Donegan, who had been to the park. "This bill is taking a special interest and granting it an exemption in the state of Florida."

Two legal scholars said the bill probably could pass constitutional muster, despite its appearance of giving Legislative preference to the Bible and Christianity, as opposed to other religions.

"I'd give it a better than 50 percent chance (of surviving a challenge), but in the legal climate we're in, I wouldn't give it much more than that," said constitutional law professor Thomas C. Marks Jr. of Stetson University College of Law, who noted a plethora of recent lawsuits challenging the intermingling of church and state issues.

Florida's Constitution gives the Legislature broad authority to make all sorts of tax exemptions for "educational, literary, scientific, religious or charitable purposes."

So lawmakers could also carve out specific property tax exemptions for theme parks that display the Torah, the Vedas or the Koran.

And the director of Dinosaur World Adventure thinks they should.

"I think it should be a little more broad in scope and not even limit it to Christians," said Glen Stoll, director of ministries and property for Creation Science Evangelism. "That seems a little discriminatory."

Last week, when members of a tax revenue estimating conference took up Webster's bill, they discussed whether the legislation might encourage more biblical theme parks and drew up an analysis that estimated the law's "middle" impact could cost as much as $4.8-million a year.

After 10 minutes of discussion, they settled on saying the impact could not be determined, since they didn't know how many biblical theme parks exist now or how many might follow such a tax incentive.

April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
Save up!!!!!!!!!!!
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
What was Pigeon Forge, before Dollywood? Look at the tax dollars that tourist bring in that does not have to come from property taxes. Lets hope that our leaders do not screw this up like they did the race track that is now in Wilson County instead of Rutherford!
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
The difference here folks...Disney is in Orlando, Kings Island in Cincinnati, Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta, and Kentucky Kingdom is in Louisville. All of these major parks are in major cities with large populations which feeds revenue. Pigeon Forge was a tourist attraction and brought in hundreds of thousands of people long before Dollywood ever thought of being. Murfreesboro has none of the above and to build an attraction that appeals to a few will not bring the masses the Chamber envisions. We will extend tax breaks to this operation all the way to bankruptcy court.
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
I hope that city planners would take a long look at Visionland in Birmingham, AL. When Visionland was conceived it would seem this was something the city could use and would support. I do not know if they are currently or ever were running in the black. There may be good reason we no longer have an Opryland and this proposal needs very careful consideration.
April 15, 2007 at 12:00am
Oh for Christ's sake. (Ha ha) What a stupid idea. We don't need to perpetuate the stereotype of Rutherford County being bible bangers any further, which is just what this park would do. But on the flip side, if we build a Jesus park, maybe we can built Satan camp, too.
April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
If they build this I'll definitely be moving out of the county. Build this monstrosity somewhere else please. If not my wife and I are gone.
April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
"If you build it...they will come" whispered the voice in one of my favorite movies Field of Dreams. Of course most everyone thought the guy was crazy to plow up his corn field and build a base ball stadium. But this was a movie and with some movie magic people came from hundreds of miles around...

The thing is...THAT WAS THE MOVIES. The last thing we need is a Big Ugly Theme park in our back yards. I live in Blackman and what I was hoping for was to be REAL close to a big ass theme park. And to make it even better let us call it Bible Town USA. Are you kidding me??? I bet the developers have a chapter in their business plan titled "How to Make Money of Jesus Dolls"...Someone PLEASE shot me if we are dumb enough to allow this Rip-off USA theme park to be built.
April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
The county mayor is naive if he thinks the city will not annex the park. The economic boon will then go to the city rather than the county, assuming there is an economic boon.

As for the ethical question as to how this was presented, ethics were pushed aside. The press was not invited, the general public was not invited, and the meeting was held among elected officials of the city and county behind closed doors.

April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
GrumpaEd, speaking of ethics, perhaps its already time to fire up the Ethics Committee which the County just passed on Thursday (4/12).
April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
The boon, if there is one, will be in the initial land deal and construction. And then in a few years, it will close down and sit there like the outlet mall did for years until one day we get the future equivalent of a call center, which despite its promises, brought jobs that on average pay less than the ones we already had. [And members of the IDB, which wrote the contract, can't get enough information out of Verizon to figure out whether it's complied with its end of the bargain. What do you suppose it means when a party to a contract withholds the information you need to figure out whether it has complied with the contract? Hmmm?]

BTW, I've got a bridge if you're interested.
April 16, 2007 at 12:00am
Excellent point about Visionland. The park has finally started to make money now that they rebranded it Alabama Adventure.
April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
I for one think it is a good idea and would go. I just think that the developers and investors pay 100% of all costs and not the taxpayers. By the way, Opryland was profitable when they closed it. They misled everyone into thinking they were losing money so they could justify building a mall that they eventually sold their share of.
April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
Does anyone remember that Ned Flanders tried to do this on The Simpsons? I believe the place caught on fire and was totally demolished. Either way, it was a bad idea. Are we going to have an Allah park for the Muslims? And how about a Buddah park? Seems a little politically incorrect to me.

And, after all, who would want Rutherford County to do ANYTHING a person could view on a cartoon?
April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
What a potential embarrasement to Rutherford County and Murfreesboro. I for one do not want any of my tax dollars going to fund this train wreck of an idea.

April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
Totaly opposed to this idea for a theme for a park here in Rutherford County. I can see the Jesus Juice flowing now down in city hall, making the tax break parting of the green bank roll the frothing at the mouth developers see comming. Give us Music Country, something that is part of the area, not part of the bible. Oh brudda, tell them the people in MS might be interested, just south of Tunica...
April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
Tax them up one side and down the other. We need to make up for the other times, we got screwed...
April 17, 2007 at 12:00am
What we don't need is an employer that offers hundreds of lower wage/ no health insurance jobs or lots of "part-time" positions where there are no benefits offered. While we have not been informed of the proposition, I would imagine that the set-up would be similar to Opryland. Seasonal employers often fall into this category and this is a major problem to me. I knew an individual who worked for Opryland as a seasonal entertainer (singer, dancer) and did not receive any health care benefits. This person had an auto accident, was hospitalized with multiple fractures--lost his job by the way--and then lost his apartment (no job, casts, crutches--no health insurance!) It seems that if a company is really intent on locating here, our city should require that at least 80% of the total number of employees have health care benefits, as well as a decent hourly wage. Our leaders' job is to encourage employers who will be good corporate citizens and provide fair compensation & benefits to our residents. We have something very valuable---great location, land, growing community---and we have the right to expect that anyone who wants to do business with our citizens should provide a good employment opportunity. Otherwise, we should just save our valuable land & location for a diffierent industry that provides for their workers.
April 29, 2007 at 12:00am
As a Christian, I am against it as I think it will trivialize the faith.
June 27, 2007 at 12:00am
I've been out of town for a couple of months now working, but a friend of mine told me about this place. As an avid atheist, the idea of having a thumper park in my backyard makes me squirm. Of course if we are sure that it is able to sustain itself and thus provide tax revenue that benefits the city and county then I am all for it.

Of course if this place attempts to push pseudo-scientific creation science and becomes a spring board for bashing real scientific endeavors then you can expect to find me protesting in front of it.
October 13, 2007 at 12:00am
i am seriously disgusted with the people of rutherford county. it is not a shame to bring God into a community. a bible theme park would be great for children and people of all kinds. it would be an awesome way for people to learn more about the bible and our Creator. no stupid buddha made us, nor any other idols. God is the only maker and creator and we should be proud to have a park that represents where we truly came from...
June 10, 2008 at 12:00am
Woah! Think of all of the traffic! We could never be able to go to work! I like the idea of having the park, but not in a small county like Rutherford or Wilson County. And think of all of the trees and property torn down!
September 25, 2008 at 12:00am
Hi, perhaps soon we shall be able to project our beloved Jesus' survival from the cross and travel to India!
for your kind perusal:

love for all :)
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