The Westchester County Center. Photos courtesy of Westchester County Government
After serving as a COVID medical facility during the pandemic, the beloved gathering place has reopened for business.
Used as an emergency overflow hospital and then a testing-and-vaccination site during the pandemic, the Westchester County Center is back in business — and county leaders are looking forward to its next chapter.
“We have now brought it back to what it was prior to COVID,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer says. “We’ve got the graduations and high school basketball back, along with the trade shows and exhibits.”
The county-run White Plains facility with the classic 1930s Art Deco façade officially reopened in February, he says. “We have a certain amount of rebookings, but this will be nothing like a normal year. We were closed most of 2020 and all of 2021 and 2022.” Things should be back to normal in 2024.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the County Center was converted into a temporary hospital with 56 rooms, each equipped with a toilet, sink, electricity, and oxygen. Fortunately, the expected patient overflow never materialized and the facility transitioned to a testing location and then a vaccination site.
Unfortunately, the basketball floor in the 5,000-seat arena was destroyed in the process of creating the temporary hospital rooms. But that flooring has since been replaced, and the NBA G-League Westchester Knicks will be back in the house for their next season, Latimer says. “It’s been a good home for them, and we’re happy to have them back,” he notes.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the arena hosted hip-hop artist A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, the Doobie Brothers, and “The Royal Affair” tour, which featured members of Yes and Asia.
To help figure out what’s next, the county is “soliciting proposals from targeted consultants to help us define the future uses of the County Center,” according to Bridget Gibbons, the county’s director of economic development.
The county executive also said that county economic development officials are waiting to see what happens with Empire City Casino/MGM Resorts in Yonkers, which has applied to the state for a full casino license. “We want to see what happens there and what they will do and how that will affect our facility,” says Latimer. “That would make them a greater venue with more offerings.”
“We also have to look at changing trends because of COVID,” he says. “There has been a major drop-off in some economic sectors. We will be meeting with various hotels to brainstorm about how they see the County Center fitting in with their needs.”
Technology is also a factor for the facility, which welcomed its first customers in 1930. It was rebuilt in the early 1980s and then “brought up to speed” again in the early 1990s. “We want to take a comprehensive approach and not have to undo any upgrades we make now, in terms of lighting and electronic communications,” says Latimer. “We want to do it all in one fell swoop.”