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New Hartford parking czar Gomes prioritizes rebranding, technology development

BY Joe Cooper

5/7/2018
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper
Hartford Parking Authority CEO Armindo Gomes stands in his office at the Corning Building, 11 Asylum St.
Nestled in a corner office flanking Asylum and Main streets, Armindo Gomes is drawing from his private-sector days to try to rebrand the Hartford Parking Authority.

Gomes, a management guru appointed as executive director and CEO of the Hartford Parking Authority in January, said he's always been a believer in brand management and improving HPA's reputation is central to his thesis.

The 61-year-old Suffield resident, who previously lived in the Capital City, spent more than nine years at Enfield-based LEGO, serving as head of North American operations for its education division. During his tenure at the international toy giant, Gomes says he learned about the necessity of working with customers to improve LEGO's brand and image.

"I'm looking at the Hartford Parking Authority as a brand. How do we change the perception of the brand?" Gomes said of his thought process.

City parking, he said, is oftentimes discredited as a headache. For Gomes, the uphill battle comes in upending that narrative.

"Let's be honest, parking in any major city always takes a hit," Gomes said, adding that transparency, honesty and inclusion are the pillars to improving the community's perception of Hartford's parking.

Beyond that, Gomes says the agency is taking a "commonsense approach" to parking under his leadership, which includes collaborating with the city council and engaging in community forums to gain feedback and acknowledge HPA's shortcomings and accomplishments.

While HPA is not planning to alter parking rates or unveil new amenities in 2018, Gomes' chief initiatives include expanding recently launched technologies.

In 2017, 258 of Hartford's aging curbside payment kiosks received a facelift with new technology that asks for license-plate information and no longer requires parkers to display payment receipts on dashboards or windshields. HPA also unveiled a mobile app, powered by Woonerf, that makes it easier for users of the city's 1,800 curbside spaces downtown to remotely pay for parking or extend parking meter times.

Gomes says his team is working to leverage the technology to provide additional services, including alerting parkers of critical information, such as snow bans, which HPA experimented with during a recent storm in March.

Motorists also may soon be able to pay parking tickets at the kiosks. HPA is also looking into a program that allows business owners to validate customer parking using the app and kiosks, which can also be used as local advertising platforms, Gomes said.

"We have to utilize the technology that we have first," he said, adding that other cities are experimenting with various new roadside technologies, but none are compatible with Hartford's current equipment.

Some cities, for example, are testing roadside equipment that automatically identifies a motorist's license plate information and instantly deducts from their preferred mobile payment service when they park.

Affordability

Gomes said parkers can expect affordable parking under his leadership. City leaders require HPA to provide low-cost parking throughout Hartford. One prime example is the city-owned parking near Dunkin' Donuts Park at 1212 Main St. and the recently expanded lot at 58 Chapel St.

For $5 a day, the surface lots pit drivers next to the Hartford Yard Goats' ballpark and a few blocks from downtown. These low parking rates, Gomes says, are unseen at minor league parks across the region.

"$5 a day makes sense to me when people are parking," said Gomes, whose agency recorded $7.4 million in revenue in 2017. "It provides not only a shot in the arm for the city but for the people coming to see games."

Hartford has almost 50 publicly- and privately-owned garages and surface lots dedicated to parkers throughout the city.

Hartford's current parking allotment meets the local need, Gomes said, but the city could use more spaces as it works to attract new businesses and residents downtown.

Homecoming

In a career that has included numerous management positions, Gomes, who resided in Hartford for 20 years, has professional history that brims with experience in logistics, warehousing and distribution. He's an immigrant from Portugal who moved to the U.S. with his parents in 1959, graduated from Hartford Public High School. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration and management from New Haven's Albertus Magnus College, where he studied in the evenings as an adult.

Before LEGO, Gomes held several positions at Excel, Ryder and worked nine years at Philips Electronics.

He said he always intended to work in his adopted city, but the industries he toiled in did not afford him the opportunity, until now.

"I'm honored to be here in Hartford and glad that I have the opportunity to serve," he said.