The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about the cult of modern-day ark builders. Though I’m referring to people following in Noah’s footsteps, I don’t mean cult in the pejorative sense. Unless you think there is something a bit too odd about building a 300-foot-long ark that could carry two of every kind.
Here’s a portion of the story, which is pegged to an ark being built by three billionaire Chinese brothers:
These are just the latest additions to a veritable ark armada built around the world by the devout and the merely driven—from a 300-foot-long ark built by a pastor in the Canadian town of Florenceville, New Brunswick, to one built by Greenpeace in 2007 on Turkey’s Mount Ararat, warning of “impending climate disaster.”
Richard Greene, a 72-year-old evangelical minister, began building his full-size ark, in Frostburg, Md., after a vision he says came to him in 1974. Mr. Greene ran out of funds in the 1990s, leaving a giant skeleton of concrete and steel, but he says that 35 years on, he hasn’t lost hope, though he can’t help but be in awe of the other ark-builders. “If I got jealous of what other people are doing, this whole thing would have sunk years ago,” he says. “You just keep on keeping on…But if God doesn’t move a lot quicker, I won’t be around to see the completion of this ark.”
Some latter-day Noahs believe the biblical story of a flood washing away man’s misdeeds resonates in a time of sunken financial institutions and economic tumult. “Things aren’t going so well, and God, even in the midst of all that trouble, has provided an ark of safety, a place where people can turn into and go,” says Nathan Smith, a pastor at the nondenominational Florenceville church.
The Kwok brothers, backers of the Hong Kong ark, are heirs to their father’s blue-chip Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd., which at the height of the real-estate boom was the world’s largest property developer by market capitalization. But the brothers squabbled in recent years, and last year the board voted to oust eldest brother Walter Kwok as chairman and installed their 80-year-old mother to succeed him.
The Noah’s Ark project reflects Thomas Kwok’s evangelical Christian faith. During the 1990s, he set up a church on the 75th-floor pyramid atrium atop Sun Hung Kai’s Central Plaza office complex. The Noah’s Ark project was initially hatched as a theme park with rides, until Mr. Kwok decided the project should be something more than that. It was held up in planning for several years, and construction on the ark’s foundations didn’t begin in earnest until 2004.
The Kwoks’ version of the ark, which sits on 270,000 square feet of space and was developed in conjunction with five Christian organizations, houses a restaurant, exhibition hall and children’s museum in addition to the Noah’s Resort hotel. Mr. Kwok won’t disclose the cost of the project, which is beached on a small island in Hong Kong’s harbor most reachable via ferry, at the foot of a busy bridge that connects the city to its airport.
Hmmm ... interesting as this project is, it seems the tens of millions of dollars the Kwoks have no doubt spent on this project could have been put to better used building, let’s say, a land-based ark (aka shelter) for the homeless.