ATLANTA – The Atlanta Hawks have found an innovative, community-minded way to use State Farm Arena while the coronavirus pandemic has left the building without its usual slate of concerts and sporting events.

The Hawks and Fulton County have announced plans to use the facility in downtown Atlanta as an early voting site. With 700,000-thousand square feet of space, there’s plenty of room to comply with the social distancing requirements that hampered voting before and during the June 9 primaries.

“We always felt we were a community and civic asset,” Hawks owner Tony Ressler said Monday. “Making State Farm Arena the safest, most efficient and largest polling location in Georgia and maybe the country is part of that commitment.”

“We will go from the proverbial worst to first as a result of this collaboration,” Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts added.

The area will open July 20 for early voting ahead of the Aug. 11 runoffs and in October in advance of the Nov. 3 general election. A portion of the building also will be set aside for counting mail-in-ballots.

In conjunction with Monday’s announcement, MARTA unveiled plans to reopen its rail station adjacent to State Farm Arena, which has been closed since the COVID-19 outbreak began because of the cancellation of events at the arena and nearby Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The station has undergone a deep cleaning and needed repairs during the last three months.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger praised the Hawks and Fulton County for stepping up to improve the voting experience after the long lines and other problems that beset Atlanta during the primary voting.

“The partnership between Fulton County and the Atlanta Hawks is a great example of how the public sector and the private sector can work together to address the issues we saw on June 9,” he said. “Looking forward, we are hoping to build more of these partnerships with the private sector and civic groups to support voter access during this unprecedented pandemic.”