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‘Very Temple proud’: Philly to use Liacouras Center as overflow hospital space as coronavirus cases rise

Temple University's Liacouras Center could hold up to 250 hospital patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

A pedestrian walks in front of the Liacouras Center at Temple University in North Philadelphia on Friday. Temple will allow the city to use the center for hospital space during the coronavirus pandemic.
A pedestrian walks in front of the Liacouras Center at Temple University in North Philadelphia on Friday. Temple will allow the city to use the center for hospital space during the coronavirus pandemic.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Temple University’s Liacouras Center will become overflow hospital space if needed during the coronavirus crisis, Mayor Jim Kenney announced Friday.

“Materials and supplies will be moving into the Liacouras Center over the next few days," Kenney said. “I sincerely hope we never have to use the supplies or this space, but we will be ready if we do.”

The Liacouras Center, as well as other Temple facilities, have been made available to the city at no cost, Kenney said.

“We’re very Temple proud,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will bring in equipment to turn the center into a space for 250 patients, said Managing Director Brian Abernathy. He said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that additional capacity would be possible in the future.

As of Friday, Philadelphia had 637 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and three deaths. Of those cases, 50 people had been hospitalized, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. The city expects the number of confirmed cases to grow, and is securing additional hospital space for a potential surge in hospitalizations, as has happened in other areas.

Abernathy said the space would most likely be used for patients who do not have the coronavirus but are in need of other care, to free up hospital space for people with the infection.

“We want to be as prepared as possible,” Abernathy said. “That is exactly why we are adding hospital beds. God willing, we won’t need them. But I certainly expect to.”

» READ MORE: Philadelphia-area hospitals brace for the coronavirus surge: ‘We are no more than 2 weeks behind N.Y.C.'

The agreement with Temple includes the use of the Liacouras Center, its parking garage, and the student pavilion, an indoor athletic and practice space one block north on Broad Street, said Ray Betzner, a university spokesman. Temple owns the Liacouras Center, but it is operated by Comcast Spectacor, which also is part of the agreement.

Betzner said the center would be used for hospital space and the pavilion would be used for storage. The Army Corps of Engineers will set up the facility and it will be run by military medical personnel, he said.

» READ MORE: Pa., N.J. facing tough priorities as COVID-19 cases mount

The city also has secured a lease agreement to use The Holiday Inn Express at 13th and Walnut as quarantine and isolation space for people who cannot quarantine in their own homes. Abernathy said that site has already hosted city employees who are quarantined, and will become fully operational over the weekend.

Abernathy said the city is “talking to every major institution” about potential use of their facilities.

Other cities plan to use convention centers as hospital overflow space, including the Javits Center in New York and the Atlantic City Convention Center.

John McNichol, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, said conversations with the city regarding the use of the space are continuing, but no decisions have been made.

“Our focus is on getting back to business as soon as possible so we can save jobs,” he said.

Regarding hospital-overflow use, McNichol said: “We’re trying to be as nimble as possible. Right now there’s no plan to use the Convention Center for that purpose.”

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City officials had wanted to use the former Hahnemann University Hospital, which closed last year, as quarantine space. But Kenney announced Thursday that the city had abandoned those negotiations after the owner wanted about $1 million per month for use of the empty building.

Temple President Richard M. Englert, according to Betzner, was eager to help when approached by city and federal officials.

“Temple University is part of the city and this is a fight that everyone in the city needs to enter,” Betzner said. “And Temple was happy to be a part of it.”

Staff writer Anna Orso contributed to this report.