The message in its 450-foot-long hull, its rooftop luxury hotel and
67 pairs of fiberglass animals: "The financial tsunami will be over,"
says Spencer Lu, the Kwoks' project director at Noah's Ark, which is
The land-bound ark wasn't built in response to the current global
turmoil; it has been in the planning for 17 years. But the financial
storm provides a nice marketing hook for the Kwoks' ambitious project,
which will probably need to lure visitors from beyond Hong Kong's city
limits to be an economic success.
Minders of the Dutch ark say they were in touch with the Hong Kong
team and don't see it as competition. "We stand for the same goal as
far as I can tell," said Jacky Baken, a 35-year-old gardener who quit
her business to work full time on the ark. She says the group is at
work on a full-size water-going version. And, she says, "We're still
the first one with the floating ark."
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.
A Dutch Ark
are scared and they don't know where they're going," says Johan
Huibers, the 50-year-old builder of the Dutch ark, who hopes to be able
to sail the boat to London in time for the 2012 Olympics, and then on
to the U.S. and Australia.
The instructions in the King James version of the Bible call for a
gopher wood and pitch vessel that is 300 cubits long, 50 wide and 30
high, with a window, a door and three stories. (By the reckoning of
modern scholars, that comes out to about 450 feet long, 75 feet wide
and 45 feet high.)
But the instructions aren't specific beyond that, and the
engineering isn't easy. The Dutch version is made up of iron barges
under the wood, while the Hong Kong ark is made of concrete reinforced
with glass fiber.
Hong Kong's ark builders also tried to install a permanent rainbow
through light refraction but eventually gave up when the science proved
too difficult. The Dutch team is also wrestling with the challenge of
installing a convincing rainbow.
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.
"People are experiencing a crisis right now," says Mr. Lu, waving
his hand over fiberglass statues of a pair of bears overlooking the
South China Sea. "It's possible that this financial tsunami has come at
this time to Hong Kong for a reason. And our message is: The doors of
the ark are not closed, they're open, and the animals -- representing
new life -- are coming out."
The project has also come under fire from some groups that say the
government shouldn't have granted Mr. Kwok a 21-year lease on the
island to build an explicitly religious project, without the approval
of the legislature. Mr. Lu says the park isn't promoting religion.
"We're promoting meaning," he says.
Frances Leung, a 57-year-old social worker who has seen a big chunk
of her savings evaporate in the markets, was invited to visit the ark
before its official opening. She says she drew great inspiration from
seeing the animals, and new hope.
"When you go to Disneyland, there's really no message there," says
Ms. Leung. "But at Noah's Ark, there is such a strong message that life
Copyright: Wall Stree Journal