The home of the US Open, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, is set to become one of the many facilities converted into a makeshift hospital throughout New York City in response to growing needs to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility's Indoor Training Center will house 350 hospital beds, while Louis Armstrong Stadium will transform into a commissary that pushes out 25,000 meals a day to hospital workers and those seeking assistance.
The temporary hospital isn’t initially being created for those who’ve contracted the coronavirus, though will adjust as demands evolve. New York City is considered by many to be the current epicenter of the virus in the U.S., with more than 37,000 of the country’s 159,000 confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, TENNIS.com spoke with Danny Zausner, chief operating officer of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, in Flushing, N.Y., about the two-pronged project:
How did this process start?
About ten days ago, the governor [of New York, Andrew Cuomo] reached out to the country to say they were looking 1-2 million square feet of space to build hospitals within the five boroughs. Right around that same time, I had gotten a phone call from someone at the New York City mayor’s office that I share a board seat with, who said to me, “We’re looking at Arthur Ashe Stadium.”
When I got to the crux of what they were looking for, I said that it is the largest tennis stadium in the world, but it’s not suited for hospital beds. But once I understand more, that they just needed big, open spaces, the closest thing we had to that on site was our indoor training center.
The next day a team met us out in Flushing to look at our indoor training center, and then about two days later they came back with another team that builds facilities for major catastrophes. On Saturday they reached back out and said they wanted to come back on Monday, and on Monday at 1 o’clock they said that they want to start building tomorrow (Tuesday). It all happened in the last 7-10 days. It’s incredibly fluid, as you can imagine.
What is the timeline for conversion?
They are going to do it in three shifts: they want to get 150 beds up, and then another 100, and then the final 100. I think, in some way, shape or form, they’ll be up and running at some point next week.
What about Louis Armstrong Stadium?
There are two separate projects. The indoor training center is being converted into a 350-bed hospital; the other is food service. Our partners at Restaurant Associates are packaging in the neighborhood of 25,000 meals a day out of Louis Armstrong Stadium. We have a commissary there; they are using all of our large, open spaces in Armstrong, like dining rooms and office spaces. And they are setting up on the actual court itself: teams of people who are packaging breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days at a time. They’ll be boxing up and delivering these meals to workers at the Javits Center, to underprivileged children in the New York City public school system, and to COVID-19 patients.
INTERVIEW WITH KATRINA ADAMS, FORMER USTA PRESIDENT, ON THE ORGANIZATION'S COVID-19 AID EFFORT:
Given the Tennis Center's certain exposure to COVID-19, when will be safe for the facility to be used for its original intent?
The usages are very specific to those two places, so it’s not as if people are accessing Arthur Ashe Stadium or anywhere else on the grounds. That being said, I can assure you that by the time people leave these two entities—and obviously we hope that’s sooner rather than later—that they will be cleaner and more meticulous than when they opened. Obviously, we’re not going to be bringing the public into these spaces until everyone is out.
It is a big hypothetical, and we don’t know when that timeframe will be. But there’s no question in my mind that when these companies are out of here, these will be the safest places to either play tennis or participate.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We’re part of the Queens community. Elmhurst Hospital, which is right around the corner from us, is the virus epicenter in Queens. Everyone’s been trying to figure out what they can do to support the community, so we’re glad we’re doing our very, very small piece to support what’s going on out there.