Debate over Bible Park still rages between neighbors and developers

Rutherford County residents packed the Lane-Agri center in Murfreesboro on Feb. 12 in search of answers. For almost a year, controversy has been stirring over a 275-acre piece of land just north of state route 840 and west of I-24 in the Blackman community.

This location has been chosen as the site for the proposed Bible Park USA, a plan to elaborately recreate Bible stories and the Holy Land including Noah’s Ark, featuring plays performed by the animals; a Galilean Village that draws comparisons to Colonial Williamsburg; the “Exodus Experience,” which will be a recreation of the parting of the Red Sea; a teen area featuring a ride, shops, an arcade and coffee house; areas for church groups to gather for Bible study; and the Bible Land Fly-Through indoor ride.

“It will be like IMAX on steroids,” says Armon Bar-Tur, managing director of SafeHarbor Holding, Inc., and developer of the park.

The $175 million project has been the topic of heated discussion, and these open forums should answer many “of the rumors that just aren’t true,” Bar-Tur told a crowd gathered around him.

The park is the brainchild of Ronen Paldi, owner of Ya’lla Tours, a travel company that books trips to Israel, among other countries. When Paldi realized many Christian pilgrims from the U.S. could not afford the real thing, he decided he would bring it to them.

According to Terri H. Sterling, public relations officer for this project, the land in Blackman beat out others based on several basic criteria?a large plot, interstate access, proximity to the Nashville airport and area universities, good infrastructure, and the fact that it is within one day’s drive for 75 percent of the U.S. population.

With this established, the group set to work. However, it did not take long for opposition to rise. With these strong feelings, augmented by a meeting between developers and government officials apparently breaching the Tennessee Sunshine Laws (as reported by The Daily News Journal on Jan. 25), it must have seemed necessary to invite the public to take a look at the plans. The meetings consisted of seven stations where residents could speak with professionals about each aspect of the project.

Although it would appear Bar-Tur and Co. are trying to accommodate the complaints, David Colin, Blackman resident and member of the Spring Lake Home Owner’s Association Board of Directors, was not convinced.

“That guy pissed me off,” Colin scoffs. “They had these professionals there who were dodging straightforward questions.

“I’ve heard different numbers [regarding traffic statistics] from every professional here . . . they’re ill prepared,” Colin said while attending the meeting. Colin said he believes the park “will have a devastating impact on those who depend on Florence Road” and he and 10 others in the Blackman community have started a website at servingontheweb.com/nobpusa.

Colin said he wants the website to include information on traffic statistics, property values, drainage problems and other issues.

“It’s a residential area,” says Blackman resident Garry Duncan, adding that he believes nobody will be willing to buy homes across the street from a theme park.

“It’s also a niche market,” Duncan adds. “I don’t think it’s going to offer much to anybody else. I feel that it is going to fail.”

Which is another concern of many residents?if it fails, what will happen to the empty lot? Some speculate the plan is nothing more than a ploy for Bar-Tur to acquire cheap property (being assisted by tax incremental financing, a system that takes funds from additional property taxes due to development of an area to assist in the costs) that will enable him to put up whatever he wants if the park fails.

“I assure you, there is no conspiracy,” Bar-Tur said to one of the more notorious posters on an online discussion board.

Not everyone is ardently opposed to the park, however.

“More people have been sending me e-mails saying they like the park,” Sterling said.

According to Christiana resident Mark Savage, this is all a step in the direction of a greater good.

“I think the park is an outstanding idea,” Savage says. “It allows people to see things directly [from biblical times] and understand the customs and traditions we can’t comprehend . . . Sometimes people have to make sacrifices for a greater good. We’re on the buckle of the Bible belt, but sometimes we don’t act like it.”


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