Airport nears goal to help lure airline

Published: Saturday, January 11, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 10, 2003 at 11:01 p.m.
Continental Airlines may soon have half a million reasons to come to Gainesville.
Officials at Gainesville Regional Airport say they are close to raising the $500,000 they need to establish a "ticket trust" meant to lure a new airline.
"I'm optimistic that we'll meet our goal soon," said C.B. Daniel, a member of the airport's board of directors. "We're not there yet, but we may be by next week."
Daniel is chairman of "GO NY Nonstop," the airport's campaign to raise financial support for a possible new airline in Gainesville.
The airport now offers service to only two destinations: Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. But officials at Continental are mulling a plan to provide nonstop service from Gainesville to the airline's hub airport in Newark, N.J. - a convenient destination for travelers headed for New York City.
To nudge Continental into accepting the offer, airport officials are urging local institutions to put money in a trust that would be used to buy airline tickets in the airline's first year of operation. A company committing $10,000 to the trust, for instance, would get $10,000 in airline tickets if Continental comes to Gainesville - and if it doesn't, the company would get the money back.
The campaign so far has raised $350,000 from local institutions such as Santa Fe Community College and the Alachua-based Regeneration Technologies Inc. Airport officials say they expect to pass the $500,000 mark early next week, but they have yet to get an official commitment from a key contributor - the University of Florida.
"Our biggest pledge so far is about $75,000, and we expect UF to pledge much more," Daniel said. "But we still don't have word on how much they'll commit."
Daniel said he expects a commitment from UF by Monday morning, when airport officials meet to discuss the campaign.
Officials at Continental wouldn't comment on the effect a ticket trust might have on their decision.
"We're still considering Gainesville, as well as other sites," Continental spokesman Jeff Awalt said.
Daniel said airline officials met with and got an "encouraging response" from Continental representatives in Orlando just after Christmas. If the ticket trust breaks the $500,000 mark, he said, Continental officials will likely visit Gainesville to inspect the airport.
"They'd look around to see what changes we'd have to make to meet their needs," he said.
Continental is expected to render a decision this fall.
Tim Lockette can be reached at 374-5088 or lockett@

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