DOT Assistant Commissioner Kerry Gould-Schmit Talks About the Plan that Will Generate Over $1 Billion in Revenue

In May 2006, the Department of Transportation obtained final approval on a 20-year street furniture franchise, a plan that will bring over $1 billion to the City while it meets its main goal of providing more useful bus shelters, sleek news racks, standard-sized newsstands and for the first time: permanent public toilets. The plan originated from a 1992 experiment by the David N. Dinkins’ administration that placed four public pay toilets on city sidewalks but was never pushed to a final contract despite being hailed a success.

At DOT, Kerry Gould-Schmit was among those who advocated that DOT revisit the revenue-generating plan in 2002 as the City strained to regain its financial footing after 9/11. Now as DOT’s Assistant Commissioner for the Coordinated Street Furniture Franchise, Gould-Schmit has brought the proposal through approvals, litigation and early implementation. She talks to CityLand about the plan and her path to DOT.

DOT Seeks Planners. Gould-Schmit moved to New York City from Buffalo with a Masters in Urban Planning from the University of Buffalo. She started at DCAS but noted that field work at her City Planning job helped her get to know the city. Planning sent her to each borough for the Sidewalk-Subway Interface project, which pinpointed 50 subway entrances, 30 in the outer boroughs, in need of improved pedestrian connections with city streets. “You were constantly in the field,” Gould- Schmit explained, remembering that she gathered bike counts near Hudson Yards and stood along Williamsburg’s Kent Avenue working on pedestrian planning.

Commissioner Iris Weinshall brought Gould-Schmit from City Planning to DOT, making her Deputy Chief of Staff where her focus would be sidewalk space improvements and pedestrian planning. But only weeks after her August 2001 start date, work changed dramatically. After 9/11, Gould-Schmit used her planning background to plot out DOT maps showing emergency vehicle routes. She helped create safe pedestrian traffic paths when DOT instituted emergency services, like new ferry services. When the streets began to reopen, Gould-Schmit worked on daily maps for Mayor Giuliani showing the reestablished routes and daily traffic queues allowing the administration to monitor the entire week. “I was glad that I had a skill that could help,” she added.

A Revenue Generator. As the work began to revert back from emergency planning, Commissioner Weinshall conducted “pitching sessions” and Gould- Schmit raised the street furniture contract. With the City in financial crisis, Gould- Schmit explained that the street furniture plan was really a matter of “leveraging the City’s assets.” As a sidewalk and streetscape improvement, the proposal fell under Gould-Schmit’s duties; she worked on the proposal’s terms, was one of two DOT representatives on the selection committee and presented the final franchise terms to the City Council.

The Cemusa Contract. The final City Council approval authorized 3,300 bus stop shelters, 330 newsstands, 20 automatic toilets and public service structures to be constructed and maintained by the winning City bidder, Cemusa Corporacion Europea. The City will receive 50 percent of Cemusa’s annual advertising revenue from the street furniture’s ad space or a guaranteed minimum each year, starting with a $120 million advance payment equal to the first four years’ minimum. In addition to cash compensation, the City can promote New York City on Cemusa’s advertising space worldwide. Total cash compensation is set at $1 billion.

Lawsuits immediately followed approval with Clear Channel and NBC Decaux, both losing competitors, claiming the City bid was a sham and Cemusa, inexperienced. With a ruling pending and the injunction request denied, DOT moves forward on the City’s biggest revenue generating franchise to date.

Implementation. “Litigation is not holding up the project,” Gould-Schmit said. DOT created the new franchise unit spearheaded by Gould-Schmit, authorized 15 positions and received funds from the current City budget. Her unit has started preparing presentation materials for the community boards to enable boards to pick the final furniture types. For the more controversial newsstands, Cemusa will set up newsstand prototypes at a warehouse site giving operators a chance to view their new workplace. Of the 14 remaining unit members, Gould-Schmit has hired seven, three of which are accountants. Gould-Schmit added, “I need to hire a planner.”

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