Plans for a new Utah Museum of Natural History took a large step forward today with the announcement Kennecott Utah Copper will contribute $15 million to the project.

With that come naming rights for the new museum, which will be called the Rio Tinto Center, named for Kennecott's parent company. The University of Utah said Kennecott's contribution is the largest corporate donation it has ever received.

The new museum will be built on 17 acres of University of Utah property adjacent to Red Butte Garden, opening in 2011. "It's a rare opportunity museums have of being part of the landscape museums interpret," museum director Sarah George said at a naming ceremony Thursday morning at Red Butte Garden. Formal groundbreaking ceremonies are scheduled July 29.

The site is on the shoreline of ancient Lake Bonneville with a view of the Salt Lake Valley.

"I don't think I've ever seen a physical facility, a vision and a purpose come together so gloriously as you've seen today," said U. President Michael K. Young.

Kennecott's influence will be obvious when the new structure rises: the new building's exterior will include about 42,000 square feet of copper. "Horizontal bands of copper of various heights emulate geological stratification, recalling Utah's geological and mineralogical history," George said.

"It is a rare opportunity to find community partnerships where two groups can proudly support the same causes," said Kennecott Utah Copper President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Harding. "Through this partnership, we will continue to introduce youth to careers in the natural sciences. We also hope to expose people to mining and show them how it is important to modern life."

Young acknowledged 30 years of financial contributions from Kennecott, and the company's "real interest in the person" at the U.

The museum is an active research institution that cares for more than 1.2 million objects.

Architects for the museum project are New York City-based Polshek Partnership Architects and Salt Lake City-based Gillies Stransky Brems Smith Architects.