Buffalo's convention center feasible as coronavirus site

Convention center needs approval from governor to build out

Mike Baggerman
April 02, 2020 - 3:00 am

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Officials in Erie County hope they can utilize the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center as another location to treat coronavirus patients as the apex of the pandemic is expected to be reached locally later this month or in early May.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the convention center’s main floor could provide space for up to 1,000 ICU beds.

“We know that even if we were to reduce the spread in the community significantly, we’re still going to be over 1,000 beds short for the need at the peak period,” Poloncarz said in his daily update Wednesday.

The US Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA are working together to come up with a design at the convention center. However, even the best laid plans won’t happen if New York State doesn’t approve the convention center as a treatment site. Poloncarz pointed at the Javits Center, a convention center in New York City, as an example of a location approved by Governor Cuomo.

“Right now, we have the capability in our hospital in our ICU beds as well as our general hospital beds to handle the cases in the upcoming days,” Poloncarz said. “So I’m not worried about tomorrow not having enough hospital beds.”

Poloncarz said he has reached out to the governor’s office for approval but said it’s unlikely until there’s a “real need in this community”.

WBEN reached out to the governor’s office for comment and did not receive one.

The Buffalo District of the US Army Corps of Engineers approved the convention center as a feasible site for an alternative care facility last Friday. Josh Feldmann, the Chief of Operations for the local district said they’re also just waiting for the word from New York State.

“We have pre-planned designs that will site-adapt to the specific facility,” Feldmann said. “We can turn those around in two-to-three days and get those out to contractors.”

If the governor approves the convention center, Feldmann said it will take about a week for construction to begin. Once it begins, Feldmann estimated it would take “weeks, not months” for it to be fully operational.

“The sooner we get a project awarded the sooner it’s constructed,” Feldmann said but declined to speculate whether it should be approved now. “When it’s needed and whether it’s needed is really the entire decision of the state.”

Specific details about the site still need to be laid out but Feldmann said that the second floor will most likely be used for the patients. Details about what the first floor will be are still to-be-determined.

Work is still being done behind the scenes to determine staffing. Poloncarz said medics from the National Grid could be tasked with staffing.

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