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Controversial Noah's Ark attraction in Kentucky slated to open in July

Nov. 12, 2015: Ken Ham, co-founder and president of Answers in Genesis, the group that is building Ark Encounter, addresses the media during a press conference in Williamstown, Ky.

Nov. 12, 2015: Ken Ham, co-founder and president of Answers in Genesis, the group that is building Ark Encounter, addresses the media during a press conference in Williamstown, Ky.  (AP)

The grand opening of a Noah’s Ark attraction in northern Kentucky is expected to come next summer, the builders working on the park said Thursday

Answers in Genesis, the Christian ministry leading the project, said they anticipate opening the park to visitors July 7.

The massive, 510-foot-long wooden boat is the $90 million first phase of the planned religious theme park. Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham says work on the bow and stern will begin soon.

"We believe that what we're doing here in this particular life-size reconstruction will be the most authentic and realistic reconstruction of Noah's Ark in the world," Ham said during a media gathering on the ship's deck Thursday.

The building of the park has been a source of much controversy over the years leading up to its groundbreaking. The state gave final approval for a tourism tax incentive to the project in 2011, but slow fundraising hampered the ark’s development and the builders had to reapply. The group received backlash after the state rejected the second application for an $18 million sales tax rebate, citing growing concerns of “religious indoctrination.”

The ark’s builders are suing federal court to get back into the incentive program.

Answers in Genesis’ lawsuit named Gov. Steve Beshear and the tourism cabinet, but the group may have caught a break as Republican governor-elect Matt Bevin will take office in 2016. Bevin has the chance to drop the court defense and move to place the ark’s application back into the tax rebate program. Bevin has said he supports tax rebates for the project.

Answers in Genesis has attracted headlines and controversy for promoting a view that Old Testament stories are true and the Earth is just 6,000 years old.

Science educators, including TV star Bill Nye, have criticized the ark project, saying it could divert young people away from taking an interest in science.

Nye debated Ham at a widely seen online event last year. Nye said if Noah's ark had actually been built, it would have been destroyed by the sea.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.