United Center to become ‘logistics hub’ for food distribution, medical supply collection

The home arena of the Blackhawks and Bulls will help Chicago in another way over the coming weeks.

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The United Center was hosting Blackhawks games just two weeks ago, but now it’ll become an important part of Chicago’s coronavirus treatment system.

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Only two weeks after hosting a Blackhawks game for the last time before the shutdown of the NHL season and the nationwide intensification of the coronavirus outbreak, the United Center is radically shifting gears.

The Madison Street arena — typically used to host large crowds for Hawks and Bulls games — will soon host large supplies of medical equipment, food and other necessities in response to the pandemic, according to an announcement Wednesday.

“As Illinois goes through this together, the United Center . . . is proud to be playing a critical role with our city, state and federal response to the pandemic,” the statement said. “Our arena and outside campus will be transformed into a logistics hub where we will be assisting front-line food distribution, first-responder staging and the collection of critically needed medical supplies.”

A spokesman said the transition should be in full effect by next week, with more information and details available in the next few days.

The arena has sat vacant for 14 days since the Hawks beat the Sharks 6-2 on March 11, although Hawks and Bulls chairmen Rocky Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf, respectively, have committed to pay day-of-game arena employees through the rest of the initially scheduled season.

Other cities have turned in recent months toward similarly spacious venues to help during the epidemic. Wuhan, China, converted an 8,000-seat basketball arena into a makeshift hospital in February; Anchorage, Alaska, turned its 6,290-seat hockey arena into a homeless shelter last week; New York announced plans Tuesday to convert its main convention center into a hospital.

But the United Center could be a trendsetter among NHL and NBA arenas in large cities as it repurposes during the epidemic.

“On behalf of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks, our athletes, our front offices and our dedicated United Center personnel, our thoughts and support are with the people of this great city and state,” the statement read. “Together, we will get through this.”

NOTE: The NHL announced Wednesday that its annual scouting combine (initially scheduled for June 1-6 in Buffalo), awards show (scheduled for June 18 in Las Vegas) and draft (scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal) have been officially postponed.

The league has dealt with a postponed draft before: After the 2004-05 lockout season, the Ottawa-hosted 2005 NHL Draft was pushed back from late June to late July andheld without spectators.

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