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New Orleans, La. -
The lead paint and asbestos have all been removed, and Lakefront Airport could have its grand opening this summer. But thanks to federal budget issues, that airport may have to function without a tower.
One of the biggest Art Deco restoration projects in Louisiana history is finally nearing completion on the lakefront.
Architect Alton Davis said, "It's been a lot of heartache but a lot of love... it's a tough project."
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority could have rebuilt old Lakefront Airport to its less-than-grand, 60's pill-box look, but they decided to peel away the old veneer and reveal the Deco designs of its 1930's origin.
This work hasn't been cheap or easy, far exceeding the original budget. "Right now the cost is $18 million for exterior and interior work," said Louis Capo with the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority's non-flood division.
Lead paint and asbestos had to be removed. Hurricane Isaac did some damage. A floor in the center of the terminal was knocked out.
Now contracts are being put out to get a food service provider to once again operate the old Walnut Room. "The Walnut Room will look like it did in the 1930's," Capo said.
There is still much work to do. Plaster casts have to be made, lighting fixtures installed, and original sugar cane tiles replaced on the ceiling.
Another possible stumbling block is the closure of that tower, due to sequestration issues. It's been placed on the chopping block, a potential of the federal budget cuts required by sequestration. bBut there's still a lot of uncertainty surrounding that issue.
"It's a real live threat," said Addie Fanguy with Landmark Aviation, one of the base operators at Lakefront Airport.
Fanguy says day-to-day operations would be fine without the tower, but special events such the Super Bowl, where a thousand jets flew in, could pose a problem. "If we had a major event like the Super Bowl without a tower, I don't see how this airport could function."
Flood Authority officials say temporary controllers could be brought in for such events.
The loss of the tower could also impact international flights, which will be allowed once again once customs moves into the new terminal. That could increase traffic by 15 percent.
Tower issues aside, the target date for re-opening is sometime this summer.
"We'd like to make June, that's what we're shooting for, but I can't commit to that," said architect Davis. But he says all contractors are now working to meet the latest deadline.
The cost of the airport has risen by $6 million in two years. But most of the money is coming from FEMA.
Airport officials say, if the tower does shut down, much of the load will be carried by the tower at Armstrong Airport.
For now, the Lakefront tower is only manned from 8:00 a.m., to 6:00 p.m., with pilots landing at night talking to one another on a special frequency to make sure there are no mishaps.
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