If Bikepath Country Vice President Richie O’Keefe is to be believed, he’ll need to install more than 100 signs with advertising along the 11-mile-long Putnam Trailway to deliver the income he promised Putnam County legislators on Monday.
To make O’Keefe’s predicted income, he’d need to install a double-sided sign every 200 yards – four times as many as O’Keefe has said his company will erect.
That’s the bottom-line from O’Keefe’s appearance Monday at the Putnam County Legislature, in preparation for Tuesday’s vote on a yet-to-be disclosed agreement.
The vote comes as cyclists and pedestrians opposed to the trailway ads have launched an online petition to oppose the plan. The proposal to have the for-profit company sell advertising on trailway signs moves forward in Putnam after Westchester County Parks Department decided to halt the proposal before signing a contract with the county to put them up.
The growing controversy surrounding the Putnam Trailway ads program may have had an impact on the market for their outdoor advertising in the woods. When I first interviewed former Carmel Town Councilman O’Keefe and Bikepath Country President President Ivan Bellotto in May, they told me they planned to sell ads for between $200 and $400 a month, placed every half-mile along the former railroad right-of-way.
On Monday, the sponsorships were to be sold, on a sliding scale, up to $50 a month. But selling every ad, every month, each of 44 mile-markers would only bring gross revenue of $26,400. Then Bikepath Country would get to deduct its expenses for the manufacture and installation of the signs before splitting net profits 50-50 with the county.
There are also a few larger signs planned for intersections, with the maps and trail regulations.
At that rate, Bikepath Country would need four times as many signs to reach O’Keefe’s prediction on Monday that the county would reap $40,000 to $50,000 a year.
After the meeting, I approached O’Keefe to discuss the discrepancy. But he walked away, refusing to explain how his numbers worked.
O’Keefe’s update comes as the Legislature meets Tuesday to vote on a yet-to-be disclosed agreement between Putnam County and Bikepath Country. The legislators are still waiting to see the contract.
“What are we voting on?” asked Legislator Dini LoBue, R-Mahopac. “It’s a bunch of nonsense. What’s the hurry? Where is the fire? Where is the agreement?”
Calls to Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell were not returned.
Legislator Carl Albano, R-Carmel, though, thinks it’s time to move forward to allow the company to put up the signs, and sell the advertising.
“It’s the right thing to do on the path,” he said. “People who like to have a map and mile markers. It’s another set of eyes on the trails. If we make money, that’s a bonus. If they aqre willing to take a shot on it, let’s let them do it. I like having somebody else do it. And if doesn’t work, pull the signs out and go home.”
Keefe’s decision to cut the rates for the sponsorships has undermined the rationale for installing the advertising along 11 miles of paved trail, along the right-of-way of the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad. In May, O’Keefe and Bikepath Country President Ivan Bellotto, the owner of Camp Kiwi in Mahopac, predicted the advertising would help cover maintenance costs for the trailway, which at the time, were estimated by county officials at $100,000 a year.
Now that estimate has risen to $140,000, according to Highway Commissioner Fred Pena.
The new rationale for the signs is concern over public safety on the pathway through the woods, as expressed by the public-safety officials who hold sway in Putnam County government circles. They want GPS coordinates on the signs in the woods, so they’ll be able to more quickly find someone who falls off their bike.
But cyclists wonder if the signs might become a distraction to those experiencing the woods on two wheels.
“We are already inundated with too much advertising,” wrote Victor Chase, of Yorktown, on the online petition. “Additionally, signage on the bike path would be a distraction to riders and, therefore, a safety hazard.”
Bikepath Country, meanwhile, received good news from Pinnellas County, Fl., where parks officials have finalized an agreement that would allow the company to sell ads on the Fred Marquis Trail. Under the agreement, Bikepath Country would receive 70 percent of the income, after expenses, said Paul Cozzie, of Pinellas County parks department.
Ads would comprise about 20 percent of the sign’s surface area, according to the sign design. In Putnam, Bikepath Country’s ads would comprise up to 10 percent of a sign’s area. The company has yet to show Putnam legislators what such a sign would look like. The examples shown so far have all provided much more space for ads.
Photo: Bikepath Country Vice President Richie O’Keefe, in yellow, tells Legislator Carl Albano, R-Carmel, about the trailway signs. /David McKay Wilson