George Zoffinger is not known for being subtle. The former president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority stepped into that role in 2002 under much media attention concerning the fate of the state’s planned and existing sports complexes in the Meadowlands and left five years later after the governor himself told him to shut up.
He didn’t. Zoffinger had made a public enemy of the post-McGreevey Codey administration, which shepherded a new stadium for the NFL’s New York Giants. Zoffinger never opposed the new arena per se, but he made no secret about his distaste over whether taxpayers would get stuck with the bill.
Zoffinger will present “Sports Development and Public Funds” at the Mercer Chamber luncheon on Thursday, March 18, at 11:30 a.m. at the Westin Hotel. Cost: $60. Visit www.mercerchamber.org.
Zoffinger is most famous for his highly publicized row with the McGreevey and Codey administrations over New Giants Stadium — an 82,000-seat Goliath with a $1.6 billion price tag set to open this year. From the moment the Giants threatened to move back to New York until the moment the deal was signed, the situation was awash in rhetoric and acrimony. On the one hand, Codey, who finally saw it through, championed the deal as a boon to the state by keeping the NFL in it. On the other hand, Zoffinger accused the state of trying to extort money from taxpayers.
Zoffinger, one of four members of the Exposition Authority to abstain from the vote on the new stadium in 2005, never did lay out his entire litany of misgivings, but he did express concerns about burdening taxpayers with infrastructure costs and annual debt payments on the old stadium on the original Giants Stadium, which is being torn down right now.
By the time Zoffinger took over the NJSEA, he had been a Democratic candidate for governor (he dropped out early because he said it was too difficult to run a campaign and have a job), and the organization was losing money. NJSEA was, in fact, being subsidized by the state to the tune of $18 million a year. Zoffinger, a banking and real estate mogul with a reputation for salvaging sinking businesses, was tapped by Governor McGreevey to turn the NJSEA around.
By the time he left, NJSEA was making about $11 million annually. The authority oversees Monmouth Park Racetrack, Atlantic City Convention Center, Wildwood Convention Center, and the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
Raised in Long Island, Zoffinger now spends much of his time speaking and sitting on corporate and nonprofit boards, including the New Jersey Resources Corporation, a natural gas distribution company headquartered in Wall. He also sits on the Rutgers Board of Governors.
The oldest of seven children, Zoffinger graduated from Penn State in 1970 with a bachelor’s in business, despite never seeing himself as a college student. According to an interview with his alma mater’s alumni magazine, Zoffinger “was the family member that no one expected to do as well as he has. His father encouraged him to set an example for his siblings, and he started by attending a local community college.”
“I had no career plan whatsoever,” he told the interviewer. “Then I heard about this campus of Penn State where you could finish your last two years of school. So, I figured I’d try it.”
He came away with a degree and a mate — Penn State’s Harrisburg campus is where Zoffinger met his wife, Judy.
Zoffinger also said he was motivated to study finance and economics as a career path by a teacher at Penn State and earned his MBA from New York University in 1971.
Zoffinger took a job at a bank, though he had wanted to be in the oil business, he told the Penn State interviewer. As it turned out, he loved his new job and rose through the ranks until he ended up as chairman of CoreStates New Jersey. Later he was named the state’s commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development, which led to an interest in real estate. He became CEO of Value Property Trust, a publicly owned real estate investment trust. From here he was named to head the NJSEA.
Zoffinger stepped down in 2007 after the state inspector general looked into a contract NJSEA had with Manhattan-based law firm Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf, where Zoffinger’s son, Richard (one of his three children), worked.
Zoffinger told the Star Ledger at the time that he had resigned under pressure from aides to Governor Jon Corzine, and “suggested that the move was payback for his unapologetically gruff style.”
Throughout his career, Zoffinger was famous for his candor and his refusal to do the one thing Dick Codey had hoped he would do — shut his mouth. He told the Penn State interviewer that his strong opposition to public funding of stadiums stems from observing his wife at work as a social worker. “I see things the state needs to spend money on rather than stadiums or arenas,” he said.