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How Tesla and Google jets could enrich a money-losing gold miner

[SAN FRANCISCO] Long-struggling Comstock Mining may finally have its mother lode.

The penny stock gold miner - which hasn't made an annual profit in 13 years as a public company - is selling a 98-acre patch of land next to the Silver Springs Airport outside Reno, Nevada.

Located near Tesla's gigafactory, the desert runway is seeing more traffic and attention from developers now that the Elon Musk-led carmaker and tech players Alphabet Inc. and Switch Inc. are building large facilities in the area.

Comstock is seeking a steeper sum for its paydirt. The US$7.5 million asking price may sound measly to some in Silicon Valley, but a bounty that size would exceed the revenue the miner has reported the last two years. It's also about half of Comstock's market value.

"You could be out of your plane and into the industrial park in 20 minutes," Scott Jolcover, head of business development for Comstock, said in a phone interview, sounding more like a real estate pitchman than gold prospector.

If Comstock gets its asking price, the land will go for US$500,000 more than what the company listed the property for in August 2016.

Boom Town

The mining company may benefit from the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center that's home to Tesla's battery plant, a Switch data centre and a forthcoming Google facility. The series of billion-dollar investments have been a massive boon to northern Nevada reminiscent of the silver rush there in the 1850s and the arrival of gaming a century later.

Tesla chief technical officer JB Straubel is among those who have landed at Silver Springs, according to Kay Bennett, the owner and manager of Silver Springs Airport.

Developers have expressed interest in Comstock's land because they see the airport as an amenity for new companies setting up shop nearby. Most traffic now comes from single-engine and twin-engine propeller planes, but its runway can handle larger aircraft.

"There is a lot of interest in our airport," said Mr Bennett, 81, who's talking with potential business partners who are interested in taking over as she contemplates retirement. "We can handle corporate jets, and we can provide services to the companies at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center."

Since Tesla's US$5 billion gigafactory project was announced, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport has added three daily, non-stop commercial flights from Oakland, California, and restored two daily flights from San Jose.

"A lot of people need to fly back and forth from Silicon Valley to Reno," said Brian Kulpin, a spokesman for the airport.

'Matter of Time'

Corporate executives, of course, tend to prefer the convenience of their own private jets. Trips by car from the international airport also requires skirting downtown Reno, whereas Silver Springs is more remote.

For Comstock, the land could be a decent strike. During an earnings call on Wednesday, chief executive officer Corrado De Gasperis said two California developers were interested in purchasing the airport, and that his company is hearing proposals for airport hangars or maintenance facilities to be built on its site.

"It's just a matter of time" before the "people with the money" show up, Mr De Gasperis said.