Couple abandons Sacramento automobile museum expansion, will donate $1 million

An Elk Grove couple has scrapped plans to build a $15 million automobile and natural history museum and will instead make a $1 million donation to the California Automobile Museum, the couple announced Saturday.

The gift is the largest the museum has ever received, said Executive Director Karen McClaflin.

Paul and Renee Snider, philanthropists with an extensive collection of mounted animals they hunted from several continents, proposed building Sacramento’s first museum of natural history seven years ago on the California State University, Sacramento, campus. But after an uproar from university faculty and hunting ethics advocates from the Humane Society of the United States, the couple abandoned the project and turned to the California Automobile Museum. Snider, a longtime car salesman, saw an opportunity for expansion.

In July, the two proposed a plan to tear down the auto museum at 2200 Front Street and build a new facility at the riverfront property that would include 140,000 square feet of exhibit area, a 100-seat movie theater, gift shops and cafes.

Paul Snider said in a press release Saturday that he “needed to move on,” and would not go through with the large-scale project. The couple had no additional comment, said the Sniders’ spokesman Rick Reed.

McClaflin said the retired couple may have run out of the time and energy required to execute such a project. Museum staff will still attempt to go through with the Sniders’ plan to buy additional riverfront property currently owned by the city and expand the automobile exhibit space, using the $1 million donation as seed money, she said.

“We do lament the fact that the Sniders had to pull out,” said McClaflin. “What was offered before was a whole building. It’s a setback, certainly, but it’s still positive.”

Last year, the City Council created a purchase sale agreement in which the Sniders would pay $1.25 million for the additional museum land. That agreement was to be signed in April. McClaflin said she plans to approach the city about the change in buyer and potential price adjustments. The process involves a lot of “hoops and red tape,” she said.

The museum has contracted a consulting firm for a feasibility study and will eventually launch a capital campaign to raise more money for the project. The study will determine whether the museum can afford to tear down and rebuild, or whether it should add on to the existing 72,000-square-foot structure and make improvements.

Priorities at the museum, which serves about 200 guests daily, include the leaky roof, which allows rain into several areas of the building during a storm, said McClaflin. The building does not have heating or air conditioning in its exhibit space and current temperatures could make some guests, many of whom are retirees, uncomfortable, she said.

“In the winter it’s cold, in the summer it’s hot,” she said. “It’s badly in need of some basic repairs, from everything from the lighting to the plumbing.”

Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director of the Humane Society, who spoke out against the joint museum plan last year, said she approves of the change.

“The Sniders’ so-called natural history museum was ill-conceived,” she told the Bee in an email. “We are glad to see the Sniders support the automobile museum and trust this brings to an end their pursuit of a public home for their animal trophies.”

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