When you start being able to swipe your credit card to whisk in and out of the train station garage, thank William Kilpatrick—if you can find him.
He probably won’t be in his office at the New Haven Parking Authority on the train station’s second floor. After close to two decades running the quasi-public agency, Kilpatrick (pictured above) is retiring. He said he’s the longest-serving executive director in the authority’s history.
He’s leaving with some changes coming online in the way New Haveners will pay for parking at garages and surface lots; with renovations wrapping up at three downtown garages; and with solid enough finances at his agency that it has contributed extra millions to city coffers.
This Friday night Kilpatrick will be the toast of the Omni at a $50-a-head farewell party in his honor. (Click here for details.) He works his last day Feb. 1. The authority expects to name an interim replacement by this week’s end and then proceed with a national search for a permanent chief.
The crowd at the Omni can expect testimonials like this one offered Wednesday by Mayor John DeStefano:
“Day after day and month after month Bill Kilpatrick made the [parking authority] a better place for customers and economic development in the city. Where other cities’ parking authorities were more a source of embarrassment, Killer (as we all know him) made ours a credible player. And he did it with a personal fashion aplomb that often left you, well, speechless. I look forward to keeping Bill involved in city activities—he is too much of a talent to waste.”
Kilkpatrick, who is 69, expects to keep at least somewhat busy in retirement.
“I can’t go from 60 to 70 hours a week and 200 miles per hour” to a full stop, he said in an interview, wearing his trademark handkerchief folded neatly in his suit-jacket pocket. The New Haven native started working at 11 years old when he’d bring his licensed shoe-shine stand outside the old Liggett’s pharmacy at York and Broadway. “[But] it’s time for me to slow it down, relax a little bit.”
Despite all that hard work, you probably didn’t hear much about Kilpatrick over the years. He stayed out of the headlines, away from controversy. That may explain why he has outlasted so many officials in top government jobs.
His approach has been businesslike, honed over 23 years as a bank exec before he came to government. He sought to make the parking authority work more “like a business,” he said.
Kilpatrick grew up on Munson Street, the son of a Winchester and Armstrong Rubber factory machinist. He remembered the community as close-knit then, lots of families looking out for each other, lots of stuff for kids like him to do after school at the old Q House, the Boys & Girls Club, the Y. As a young man he rose through the ranks at the old First New Haven National Bank as it morphed into First Bank and then Connecticut National Bank (and before it was gobbled up by Shawmut, which became Fleet, which became Bank of America). Kilpatrick became manager of the Dixwell Plaza branch. He ended up a vice-president at CNB.
In 1987 he was appointed to the parking authority’s board, a volunteer position. In 1994, the authority was a financial mess. And it needed a new leader. Kilpatrick agreed to take the helm on an interim basis. The gig “went from six months,” he observed, “to almost 20 years later.”
The authority was losing a good half-million a year, Kilpatrick recalled. Its quality control systems were a mess; periodically officials would discover thousands of dollars in parking fees pocketed by employees, or records just missing.
Kilpatrick resolved to bring a harder-nosed business approach to the place. He laid off four managers. He got the books in order. For 17 or so consecutive years the authority has paid its bills, he said; unlike in other cities, the authority here gets no city government subsidy. (Though the mayor appoints commissioners, the agency is legally separate from city government.) He has built the authority back up to about a $19 million annual budget with around 120 employees, including part-timers, managing some 8,700 parking spaces at seven garages along with 18 surface lots. (The authority also manages Union Station, pictured.) Over the past four years the authority was in a solid enough financial position to give the city a total of $15 million in voluntary “payments in lieu of taxes” to help balance the municipal budget.
He got there in part by bringing in his own management team in the early going, with some top aides staying a long time, he said. He also oversaw the modernization of ticket-collection booths and equipment, so all payments could be easily audited. He came to see parking as essential to economic development, and worked closely with downtown theaters and with the summer tennis festival, among other entities.
“In New Haven, we’re all trying to be successful. I’ve tried to work with people,” rather than get in fights, Kilpatrick said. “I believe in building relationships. Most of us have common goals. What can we do to benefit both of us? Rather than separate us?”
By arguing government agencies should run more like businesses, Kilpatrick said he means keeping costs in line “without being a taxpayer” while still delivering a good “service.” He doesn’t mean that the profit motive should guide decisions. He generally has opposed proposals to sell the authority’s garages; he noted that the authority charges parkers less than do private operators of lots and garages. (He didn’t object to putting little-used or economically strategic surface lots up for sale.) He also was part of a team of decision-makers who concluded it didn’t make sense to “monetize” (i.e. sell off at a discount) 25 years worth of parking-meter receipts to plug a short-term budget hole.
As he prepares to leave, Kilpatrick has been overseeing some long-term upgrades, including a $2.5 million modernization. Soon drivers will be able to find out through their smartphones if spaces are available at a garage or lot. They’ll also be able to pay for parking with their smartphones; by swiping credit cards when they enter and exit a garage; or by swiping the cards at a kiosk. Meanwhile, the authority is in the final stages of upgrading the Crown Street, Temple Street, and Temple Medical garages, he said. (Read about that here.) The authority is also “rebranding” itself as “Park New Haven” complete with a new logo and website. (The official name of the agency remains the New Haven Parking Authority, as it has since its inception in 1951.)
One disappointment during Kilpatrick’s tenure: A needed second parking garage at Union Station, promised by the state, never materialized. Kilpatrick said this week that he’s confident that that project is finally moving forward.
While Kilpatrick himself has remained apart from controversy, parking hasn’t in New Haven: A growing chorus of New Urbanists and environmentalists has criticized city planners for building too much parking in conjunction with development projects rather than pushing people to get to work without driving their own cars.
Characteristically, Kilpatrick chose not to take a stand in that debate when asked about it in the interview this week.
“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” he said. On the one hand, “cars are here. We need to accommodate them in an efficient way.” On the other, “it may sound strange for someone in the parking business, but you need to” promote more mass transit, light rail and ride-sharing in order to protect the environment.
The festivities at the Omni start at 6 p.m. Friday. Parking at the Temple Street Garage will be validated.