Couple delay plan for Sacramento natural history museum

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 23, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 - 6:30 pm

The wealthy couple seeking to stock a proposed natural history museum in downtown Sacramento with their collection of mounted exotic animals have delayed the plan.

Following community concerns and issues raised about the design of the project by the city's Planning Commission, Paul and Renee Snider are putting off a request to buy land for the museum from the city until next year.

The Sniders have proposed building a $15 million facility on Front Street – across the street from the city animal shelter – that would house a new automobile museum and an attached facility displaying hundreds of animals the couple have hunted.

The couple decided to delay the project last week following a Planning Commission meeting at which the proposed museum was discussed.

"It was obvious there were issues with the design as well as concerns that there hasn't been enough community outreach," said the family's spokeswoman, Jan Burch.

The Sniders had planned to seek approval from the City Council this fall to buy the land for the 178,000-square-foot facility for $1.25 million. Paul Snider made his fortune as an auto dealer in the Sacramento area and the couple's contribution to the museum project is one of the largest by a family to a cultural institution in the city's history.

The new project would include a new 100,000-square-foot auto museum to replace the California Automobile Museum, which currently occupies a warehouse with a leaking roof on the same spot where the new museum would be built.

Another 60,000 square feet of exhibit space would be dedicated to the Sniders' collection of mounted animals that includes lions, a polar bear, leopards, rhinos and a giraffe. Animal rights advocates – including the Humane Society of the United States – have objected to the plan.

Burch said the couple are still committed to the natural history part of the plan, despite the opposition.

"I think the Sniders are really committed to wildlife and habitat conservation and education, and I think the Sniders are even more committed now after this process has happened," Burch said. "Renee Snider has some ideas and some things in the works that will make the community very happy, ways of promoting wildlife education and habitat conservation."

Jennifer Fearing, the Humane Society's California senior state director, said she agrees there needs to be more community discussion of the museum. Some animal rights advocates – including the director of the city animal shelter – were unaware of the plan until it was publicized in a Bee article earlier this month.

At the same time, Fearing expressed skepticism about the Sniders' ability to brand the museum as a conservation and educational tool.

"I'm dubious that any ideas Renee Snider has about promoting wildlife conservation and habitat would square with the community's views on what that means," Fearing said. "Anyone who has seen fit in the last two decades to go kill polar bears, leopards, rhinos and elephants doesn't know what conserving wildlife is all about."

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_lillis.

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