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NEW ORLEANS - It was the first land and sea air terminal in the country, and one of two remaining art deco air terminals in the country.

And Saturday, the Lakefront Airport Terminal officially reopened.

For Lou Soroe, returning to the historic building is like stepping back in time.

'It's beautiful,' he said. 'I couldn't believe that it would be this pretty.'

Soroe was 12 years old when the terminal was dedicated in 1934. Nearly 80 years later, he's back to witness its rededication.

'Just to be here and make this part of me just makes me feel so good,' said Soroe, who served as a pilot in World War II and North Korea. 'I couldn't feel better.'

The original art deco you see today was covered in the 1960s when the terminal became the Orleans Levee District offices and a state fallout shelter.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the building.

'12 of my coworkers and myself actually spent Katrina here in this building during the height of Katrina. We heard the roof come off, and the water hitting our heads,' said Gerard Gillen, executive director of the Orleans Levee District Flood Division. 'We had three feet of water after the last doors were blown in.'

Seven years and $20 million later, the terminal has been restored to it's original glory- something that, at times, seemed like a pipe dream.

'There were ceilings that aren't here anymore and sludge and nastiness, and when I was told what it could be with the right amount of state investment, I really didn't believe it,' said state senator JP Morrell, D- New Orleans.

'We've worked a number of years on this designing, we ran into some hurdles with the interior, dealing with some asbestos and paint,' said Louis Capo, executive director of the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority.

Those who originally envisioned restoring the terminal believe it will be an economic catalyst for nearby areas that have been slow to recover from the storm, like Gentilly and New Orleans.

'If you have things like this happening, it's a growth pole for the neighborhoods around it,' said Darrel Saizan, Airport Committee Chairman.

And for those like Soroe, the building is much more than an airport terminal. It is an important piece of New Orleans' history, a symbol of its recovery and a catalyst for it's future.

The airport will be used as office space and a venue for events .

Negotiations are ongoing with a restaurateur to reopen the Walnut Room restaurant and an additional cafe.

The first tenant, Gulf Coast Aviation, signed a lease Friday, said Capo. Two more tenants are expected to sign leases next week.

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