Early this morning, the first flights took off from the new $75 million passenger terminal at the Portland International Jetport. But on Thursday night, a group of more than 500 business and political leaders got the first peek at the lofty new space.

During the VIP Grand Opening Celebration, guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails that called attention to the more than a dozen major cities served by daily nonstop flights from the Jetport.

Appetizers included Charlotte pulled pork sliders; Chicago deep dish pizza; Cleveland cheese pierogies; Philly cheese steaks; Washington, D.C., presidential chili shooters; Georgia peach and pecan cobbler; and Orlando cotton candy cones. Drinks on tap at the bar included a Baltimore Dark & Stormy, a traditional New York Manhattan and a Florida Key Lime mojito.

“It’s tough to have a project that truly exceeds your expectations,” airport director Paul Bradbury told the crowd. “And guess what? I have one.”

The 145,000-square-foot terminal includes a skybridge connection from the parking garage to the new concourse, an energy-efficient geothermal heating system, an expanded security screening area with upgraded technology, and a new food court featuring Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine Lobster Roll, Starbucks and Burger King.

The Jetport intends to apply for gold certification under the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program from the U.S. Green Building Council.

State House Rep. Ben Chipman, who represents Portland, praised the building’s green features.

“I’m impressed with the energy efficiency,” Chipman told me. “I think every new building in Portland should be energy efficient.”

For his part, Charlie Buuck, general manager of Turner Construction Co., which built the new facility, told me: “We’re happy that the owner’s happy.”

When Maine Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt addressed the crowd, he reminded us that the airport supports more than 11,000 jobs in Maine. “The Jetport is an economic engine for the region,” he said.

Janine Hodel, stakeholder manager for the Transportation Security Administration in Maine, said the new screening area is “bigger, brighter — and there’s more room for the passengers and more room for us to operate.”

Everyone I spoke to was impressed by the new space.

“It’s airy, fresh, new,” said Patti Faria. Added her friend, Ann Lockwood of TD Bank, “You don’t see wood in an airport very often.”

Alice Mogensen of Ocean Properties Ltd., also complimented the concourse’s dramatic beamed pine ceiling. “I love the ceiling,” she told me. “It really shows off Maine.”

Aaron Frederick of Atlantic Live said, “I think it’s fabulous. I was on the phone earlier saying, ‘The Jetport grew up.’ “

Todd DiFede, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said, “It looks like a real airport now. They did a great job. It’s really impressive.”

“It’s such a big thing for the city, because it’s a serious airport,” Jennifer Dimond of Burgess Advertising told me. “Especially for those of us who grew up in Portland and remember every plane going to Boston.”

Portland’s former city clerk Linda Cohen shared a similar memory when she told me, “I remember walking out to the airplanes. What a difference.”

U.S. Attorney Tom Delahanty gave his stamp of approval when he said the expansion “brings Portland into the 21st century.”

Portland Mayor Nicholas Mavadones summed it up best when he told the crowd: “I think you’ll agree, this terminal makes you feel like you’re soaring before you leave the ground.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila