The last thing Long Island needs is garages.
Or so it might seem with the region's slow but steady movement toward remaking downtowns into places Long Islanders might want to walk awhile.
Garages are expensive, dark and ugly. They become empty shells once commuters pick up their cars and head for home.
That view may well have begun to change last week, when the Long Island Index unveiled the results of its ParkingPLUS contest with four ideas that radically challenge the traditional view of garages.
The garage as concert hall, farmers market or as a location for, say, a great restaurant or spacious rooftop tennis courts.
What about a garage as hanging garden, or the base of terraced, garden-style apartments? What about using garages as a way of funneling foot traffic to the heart of a downtown business district -- or to free up space for offices, businesses, greenscapes and more public parks?
The ideas came from firms from around the nation.
The Long Island Index, a project of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation, for the first time in its 11-year history paired designers with expertise in suburbs, transportation and garages with officials of four Long Island municipalities.
"I stressed early on that what we worked on could win a prize, or become a reality," said Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri. "I was going for making it a reality."
Westbury Mayor Peter I. Cavallaro and Francis X. Murray, mayor of Rockville Centre, also are interested in using portions of the proposed designs in their villages. The fourth design was for the massive Ronkonkoma Hub project, which spans the towns of Brookhaven and Islip.
"I loved it," Murray said of a garage design that would turn arches beneath Long Island Rail Road tracks into public space, and create tennis courts on the top story.
Cavallaro liked a feature designed to push more foot traffic from the railroad station toward his up-and-coming downtown. "The trick is going to be to secure funding," he said.
For that, the mayors ought to consider bringing their proposals to the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, which has twice successfully competed with other councils around New York for state development dollars.
"I would encourage them to come to the council," said council co-chair Kevin Law, who was in the audience during last week's presentations at Adelphi University. "I think the ideas, especially for Westbury and Rockville Centre, fall into what we are about and that they could be models for other areas." The smaller projects, in Westbury and Rockville Centre, could pave the way for rethinking the use of garages in larger projects, such as the 77 acres of parking surrounding Nassau Coliseum, Law said.
The presentations also piqued interest from Helena Williams, president of the Long Island Rail Road, which owns land occupied by multiple parking lots, and Bruce Ratner, whose firm is remaking Nassau Coliseum.
"It changes the way you think about garages from being one use to multiuse," Ratner said.
"It makes you see the possibilities," Williams said.
Which is what the Long Island Index, at its founding more than a decade ago, had intended.