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Bay Area a finalist for HQ for low-cost airline

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Bay Area a finalist as HQ site for new low-cost airline

Eric Young

The Bay Area is one of three regions still being considered for the new headquarters of a low-cost airline affiliated with British magnate Richard Branson's Virgin Group Ltd.

Economic development officials in San Mateo County and executives at San Francisco International Airport said Virgin Group has notified them that it will pick the Bay Area, Boston or Virginia for the main office of Virgin USA, a domestic airline expected to begin flying in 2004. The airline is expected to make its final pick in January, local officials said.

Virgin USA's headquarters will employ some 500 people and could rise to 3,200 by 2006, local officials said. Virgin USA would provide the Bay Area with a new, high-profile enterprise at a time when many local officials bemoan the difficulty of attracting large businesses to the region.

The Bay Area, as one of the finalists for the Virgin USA headquarters, beat out New York City; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

"I'm very pleased," said Mike Nevin, a San Mateo County Supervisor who has been involved in discussions to lure Virgin USA to the area. "This would be major for the airport and the economy."

As the company has done throughout its selection process, Virgin USA did not return calls for comment.

Local economic development officials will present Virgin USA with suggestions on how the airline can market its business, as part of an ongoing effort to lure the company, said Deberah Bringelson, president of Samceda, a San Mateo County business development group.

Virgin Group, the London-based operator of Virgin Atlantic Airways, plans to finance Virgin USA through the sale of a stake in Virgin Blue, an Australian carrier it controls. Virgin Group recently raised more than $158 million by selling a 20 percent stake of Virgin Blue.

Virgin Atlantic has a small presence at SFO now, with a few dozen employees who staff the airline's one daily nonstop flight between San Francisco and London.

Many local officials feared that a recent controversy over a cargo and office space development at SFO might hurt the region's chances of landing Virgin USA. On Dec. 16, San Francisco supervisors rejected plans for a new, two-story cargo and office facility at SFO, citing objections to the bidding process.

Virgin USA was attracted to the 120,000 square feet of office space that would have been part of the cargo building construction, said Arthur Gensler, chairman of the architecture firm that prepared drawings for the building.

But the supervisors' rejection apparently didn't dampen Virgin USA's interest in the Bay Area. Virgin notified local officials that the Bay Area was still in the running a day after the vote.

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Boston is also a finalist for this project. They seem to want very inexpensive space near the airport. They also do not seem to be planning on increasing flights at the selected city, at least not in the near term.

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Richard Bramston has had talks with Arnie the Terminator Governor.In Australia his VirginBlue Airline now has 30% of market,and turned out to be the most profitable airline in the world in 2003,He based the airline in Brisbane,QLD,a top tourist state.So why would he do things differently in USA,and not choose San Francisco,which is known all around the world as being the city most people would love to visit. :P

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