New Orleans, La. – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano joined federal, state and city leaders in praising the restoration. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu outlined the building's history.
"At one time this building was used by the Confederacy. Then it was used by the Union Army. And then it has endured over time immemorial to serve the people of the United States, either to house federal offices or to house tourism offices. It is really a symbol, as you look about what we can do when we think about finding common ground."
The first tenant since the 2005 storm was the Audubon Nature Institute's Insectarium. Museum spokesman Ron Forman says the bug collection has attracted 600-thousand visitors. But the Greek Revival interiors haven't been seen by very many people in years. New Orleans native Senator Mary Landrieu says she got her first look inside the Customs building when the Insectarium arrived. New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson says she remembers the building in World War Two jammed with soldiers being deployed and saying goodbye to their families. Current tenants now include US Customs and Border Protection, Small Business Administration and the US tax court.
Secretary Napolitano made no mention of the fiscal battles being waged in Washington, but promised federal support will continue.
"We have, since the start of the Obama Administration, provided over $5.1 billion dollars to support Gulf Coast recovery pursuant to Katrina-Rita, and that commitment is not over yet. We intend to maintain it, to keep it, and indeed to grow it in the days and months ahead."
The General Services Administration says Custom House renovations also include improvements in energy efficiency.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming