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Pageantry marks ribbon-cutting for LAX international terminal

CNN News Wire | 9/18/2013, 2:25 p.m.
Pomp and circumstance were the order of business today as Los Angeles officials — including Mayor Eric Garcetti and three ...
Newly renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal Villaraigosa Pavilion at Los Angeles International Airport.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Pomp and circumstance were the order of business today as Los Angeles officials — including Mayor Eric Garcetti and three of his predecessors — took part in a gala event to mark the opening of the first phase of the $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.

Garcetti was joined by former mayors Antonio Villaraigosa, James Hahn and Richard Riordan at the event, which included music and dance performances by area students.

“Today we celebrate a new era,” Garcetti said at the Los Angeles International Airport ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We celebrate a new Los Angeles that is moving ... forward into this great century.

“At last our city has an international terminal once again worthy of its name and worthy of the 15 million Angelenos who call this area home,” the mayor said.

City and airport officials hailed the 4,000 construction-related jobs generated by the massive project and called the end product one of the most energy-efficient airport terminals in the country.

The first phase of the project includes nine modernized gates capable of accommodating the latest generation of jumbo jets. Four of the gates were already completed, while five more opened today.

The new gates, along with a sleek shopping and dining area, represent the first phase of the TBIT overhaul — which is the centerpiece of a wider $4.1 billion Capital Improvement Project at LAX, the largest public works project in the city’s history.

The ceremonial opening for the terminal was actually carried out by a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 that slowly taxied through a giant ribbon on the tarmac that hailed the terminal as the “gateway to the world.”

Of the airlines that operate out of TBIT, six fly the new-generation jumbo planes, such as the A380 and the Boeing 747-8, according to airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles.

The terminal improvements also include a 150,000-square foot mall-like pavilion named after Villaraigosa and featuring high-end dining, retail and lounges. The several dozen retailers and restaurants in the Villaraigosa Pavilion include wine bars, offshoots of hip L.A. eateries and shops selling caviar and designer clothing.

The restaurants include ink.sack, Border Grill, Umami Burger, 800 Degrees and Larder at Tavern, and 50,000 square feet of retail space featuring shops such as Fred Segal, Bulgari, Porsche Design and Kitson.

Weary international travelers arriving at the new terminal will be greeted by high-resolution images displayed on jumbo digital screens embedded into the architecture.

Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports — the city agency that runs LAX and other airports in the region — said earlier this year that the sophistication infused into the new terminal would give LAX an edge since airlines that fly long distances are selective about where they stop.

“We are competing with every other city that has woken up and realized that these international flights are an absolute bread basket and backbone for their economy,” she said. “We are about to deliver what the airlines and the passengers have come to expect from a world-class international travel experience. And I dare say we’ve actually even exceeded that.”

The pavilion’s main architect, Curtis Fentress, said he focused on making passing through LAX a relaxing, inviting experience — in sharp contrast to the airport’s reputation as a disappointment for passengers.

A frequent traveler himself, Fentress said his design, which features large windows that let natural light stream in, “gives you a nice warm hug when you come into the building — it makes you feel good, and that’s what it’s about.” Fentress also designed Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

Once all of the airlines have changed over to the new gates, the old gates will be torn down and a second phase of renovation — including another nine new boarding gates, a renovated immigration and passport control area and new federal security-screening areas — will begin, with completion planned for 2015.

The upgrades came almost a decade after they were mired in several lawsuits, now resolved. City officials now face another round of lawsuits from community groups and surrounding cities stemming from recent approvals of projects in other parts of the airport, including a shifting of the north runway that would bring the airport 260 feet closer to residential areas.

Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou | City News Service