A Putnam County outdoor advertising company would receive up to $233,000 a year in profit on ads it sells on Westchester County parkland along the South and North County trailways, according to income projections.
Under the deal struck with Friends of the Park, Bikepath Country would receive 70 percent of the proceeds, after expenses, for the ads it sells on directional signs and mile markers. The signs will feature corporate logos and information every half-mile along the 36-mile former railroad right-of-way.
Tax Watch calculated Bikepath Country’s profits after speaking with Joe Stoudt, executive director of Friends of Parks, which has the private outdoor-advertising company under contract. Stoudt estimates Westchester would receive between $80,000 and $100,000 a year for trail maintenance, based on its 30 percent share of the ad proceeds, after BikePath Country’s expenses.
That would leave BikePath Country with profits ranging between $186,000 and $233,000 a year. The company would also be paid for its expenses to manufacture, install, and maintain the signs.
The corporate advertisement could comprise just 10 percent of a sign, significantly smaller than the example provided by Bikepath Country, shown in the picture above.
“They are reputable, they are local, and it’s going to be a significant amount of money for the county,” Stoudt said. “It’s a good public-private partnership.”
Bikepath President Ivan Bellotto did not return a phone message left at his office on Friday.
Legislators in Westchester and Putnam counties are wary of the partnership, and the prospect of having ads festooned on signs throughout Westchester parks and woodlands in Putnam County. Their comments followed Friday’s Tax Watch column about the plans underway by Westchester and Putnam counties to turn over their sign programs for the North and South County Trailways in Westchester, and the Putnam Trailway in Putnam, to the private company.
Westchester County legislators on Tuesday will learn about the county Parks Department’s advertising plan in one of Westchester’s most popular parks.
County Legislator Catherine Borgia, D-Ossining, said she’ll hear from parks officials at the Government Operations Committee on Tuesday at 10 a.m., at the Michaelian Office Building, 148 Martine Ave, White Plains, NY 10601.
Borgia told Tax Watch that she’d been unaware of plans hatched by the county Department of Parks and Recreation to put up new signs along the 14 mile-long South County Trailway and 22-mile North County Trailway.
“I wish we didn’t have to learn about this from the newspaper,” said Borgia.
Two of Westchester’s best-known hikers – Jane and Walt Daniels of Yorktown – said they were disturbed to learn of the advertising program on the trailways, which stretch 47 miles from the Bronx border in Yonkers to Brewster in Putnam County.
The Daniels are co-authors of the book, Walkable Westchester, first published in 2009, with a second edition expected this fall.
“The signs will be an intrusion on the natural environment, and they just don’t belong there,” said Walt Daniels.
His wife, Jane, said she goes on the Trailway to get away from the commercial world.
“When I go in to the woods, I don’t want to see ads,” she said.
In Westchester, Friends of the Parks Executive Director Stoudt said his nonprofit organization has a contract with the Department of Parks and Recreation to replace all signage on the North and South County trailways. The Friends, in turn, have a contract with Bikepath Country, giving the private company the exclusive right to do the signage, Stoudt said.
In Putnam, there’s a 50-50 split, under a contract getting drawn up in Putnam County. Bikepath plans to charge Putnam trailway advertisers $200 to $400 a month for ads on informational signs and mile markers – installed every half-mile. The company has political connections in Republican circles. Its vice president, Rich O’Keefe, served on the Carmel Town Board, where his sister, Suzi, an aide to state Sen. Greg Ball, now serves.
County legislators Sam Oliverio, D-Putnam Valley, and Dini LoBue, R-Mahopac, told Tax Watch they oppose the advertising program on Putnam’s 11-mile section of the former right-of-way of the New York Central Railroad’s Putnam division. It’s unclear whether the ad program will have to pass muster with the nine-member board.
“They came to us almost two years ago, and we turned it down,” said LoBue. “Everybody felt it wasn’t needed. They were creating a need that didn’t exist so a for-profit company could succeed.”
Southeast Town Board member Lynne Eckhardt noted the irony in the fact that the town of Southeast bans new billboards, with its current billboards to be phased out by 2017. The county, meanwhile, wants to put up outdoor advertising along the off-road Putnam route, which begins at Drewville Road and Route 6 in Southeast, near Brewster village.
“Ironically the same towns that recently phased out billboards will now be subjected to advertising along their beloved and well-traveled rail trail,” said Eckhardt. “This is simply a terrible idea. If we must underwrite maintenance costs there are better, more creative and more aesthetic ways to do so.”
But Putnam Planning Commissioner Anthony Ruggiero says the signs will be a real asset to the county.
“It will be very positive,” he said. “I know there was concern with sign pollution. But I think the signs are tastefully done.”
Walt Daniels said the signs will be inappropriate, regardless of the way they look.
“Anything every half-mile will be intrusive,” he said. “There’s got to be somewhere left in our communities where you can go and not get pounded by this stuff.”
Outdoor advertising is banned on most roads in New York. The state Department of Transportation’s Adopt-A-Highway program, which is popular along Interstate 684, permits corporate logos on roadside signs from companies that perform litter pick-up. They do not pay for the signage.
In the city of Yonkers, individuals and companies can participate in the city’s Adopt a Street program for $250 a year. City Council President Chuck Lesnick says he has adopted Lockwood Avenue, and plans to do a clean-up project there.
He says he’s not opposed to the ads on North and South County trailways. He said that Westchester’s restriction that the corporate logo comprises no more than 10 percent of the sign area was appropriate.
“I’m not opposed to the markers, and I wouldn’t be offended by it,” he said.