Proposal for garages at Coliseum sounds familiar

An aerial view of the Nassau Coliseum. (May

An aerial view of the Nassau Coliseum. (May 11, 2011) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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'We're wasting land by blacktopping it," said Roy Cacciatore, Nassau's former commissioner of commerce and industry.

He was talking about the Hub, Nassau's last large parcel of undeveloped, commercially viable land. The commissioner's solution?

Garages.

Stacking cars instead of spreading them out across acres of blacktop would result in what planners called "land reclamation."

And the garages wouldn't sit empty, either, according to planners, once offices and businesses sprang up near Nassau's Coliseum in Uniondale -- because workers would park cars there by day, to be replaced by concertgoers using the facilities by night.

Makes sense, doesn't it?

And maybe it did -- more than three decades ago when Cacciatore made his pitch.

"That day will come," Francis Purcell, then Nassau's county executive, predicted back in 1979 when the subject of garages in the area first was broached. "It would be great," Purcell said, "and I will support it."

Nassau's garage sell has, indeed, come 'round again with news last week that County Executive Edward Mangano was seeking $10 million in state funding to help build parking garages at the Hub.

The reasons cited this time are pretty much the same officials cited 34 years ago.

"Our goal is to create more private-sector jobs and bring new businesses to the property by freeing up land that would otherwise be used for surface parking," Mangano said last week.

But with a 21st century twist.

The space opened up by building -- not one, but several -- garages would free some 50 acres for a research and development park housing robotics, health care and technology companies.

Mangano made his request for state funding to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, which was appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to review building projects and make aid recommendations.

It is unlikely, however, that Mangano will get what he wants: The local council -- along with the state's other nine councils -- are competing for one of several $25 million state grants.

Still, the request itself is noteworthy -- it marks the first time Nassau has formally addressed the vexing issue of transportation at the Hub since Mangano tapped Forest City Ratner Cos. last month to revamp the aging Coliseum.

Forest City, which built Brooklyn's Barclays Center arena -- conveniently located near multiple methods of public transportation -- did not propose garages in its $229 million proposal.

But let's, again, travel back a few decades.

In the 1970s, when Nassau considered proposals for Mitchel Field, one concept called for limiting parking to one central lot. Most people would be moved in and out of the area on a monorail or other mass transit system.

What happened? "This was judged to be too futuristic or too expensive and never caught on with local officials," Newsday reported on Oct. 21, 1979.

Some garages for the Hub make sense now, just as they did in the 1970s. But the last things the area needs -- as planners for decades point out -- are more cars and more traffic congestion.

The time is ripe, again, for a more comprehensive transportation planning effort, which ought to include identifying potential funding sources to get more mass transit into the area.

To paraphrase Purcell -- that day has come. And what 1970s planners considered Nassau's potential future is now.