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Automobile museum in Sacramento seeks sale to make improvements

The Sacramento City Council has postponed a vote on whether to sell the property housing the California Automobile Museum to its operator, the California Vehicle Foundation.
The Sacramento City Council has postponed a vote on whether to sell the property housing the California Automobile Museum to its operator, the California Vehicle Foundation. Sacramento Association of Museums

Every time it rains, California Automobile Museum staff members place hundreds of buckets to catch drips that leak through the building’s threadbare roof. And, officials said, that’s just the beginning of the facility’s problems.

The museum’s only hope of solving them, Executive Director Karen McClaflin said, rests with the Sacramento City Council, whose members will vote on whether to sell the property to its operator, the California Vehicle Foundation. That decision was expected Tuesday, but the vote was postponed at the request of Mayor Kevin Johnson, who, McClaflin said, wanted to sit down with the museum’s directors to discuss its future.

If the city refuses to sell the property to the foundation, McClaflin said, the museum probably would have to leave Sacramento.

“We’d really like to stay here. People know us here,” she said. “But if we couldn’t get the sale, we’d probably have to go back to plan B, and that means finding another facility. There aren’t a lot of buildings that meet our needs (in Sacramento).”

The museum, an antique car gallery that was constructed in the 1950s at 2200 Front St., attracts about 55,000 visitors every year, according to a report drafted by the city’s staff. The building is a 70,000-square-foot warehouse – a space that’s hard to replicate within city limits, McClaflin said.

“We looked,” she said, noting their prospects seem brighter in surrounding areas, such as Elk Grove.

That’s not what the city wants, said City Councilman Steve Hansen, in whose district the museum resides.

“The auto museum is a critical part of our civic infrastructure and will make a critical addition to the riverfront,” Hansen said, noting the city’s long-term plan to revitalize the area around the museum and nearby docks by turning it into a mixed-use hotbed of cultural and recreational attractions.

According to the city report, selling the museum would relieve the city of its financial obligations for any future maintenance or repair costs to the building, which, the report estimates, are substantial and offset the building’s estimated value. Demolishing the warehouse would cost the city more than $100,000 more than what the land is worth, the report says.

“The sale of the property to the foundation will solidify the museum’s future and strengthen the resolve to have Front Street as their permanent home,” according to the report, which recommends the council vote to sell the city’s parcel for $100 and an adjoining piece of land owned by the Redevelopment Successor Agency for its market value of $65,600.

McClaflin said the foundation already has raised $1 million in anticipation of the work it hopes to do to improve the museum. Fixing the roof is the top priority, but down the line, investors hope to see an expanded exhibition hall, improved parking lot and solar-powered amenities, among other changes.

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.

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