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WOODBRIDGE, NJ-New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority president and CEO George Zoffinger candidly discussed hurdles to developing public projects and the future of his agency yesterday during the first annual RealShare New Jersey Conference at the Sheraton Woodbridge Hotel.

“I am used to being in the private sector,” said Zoffinger, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, which attracted nearly 400 people. “As a CEO of the companies that I have run, you establish a direction that you want your company to take, and you run with it. In government, it doesn’t work that way.” Previously, he served as president and CEO of Constellation Capital Corp. and also headed up Value Property Trust, a publicly held REIT.

“Basically, we are working with people who are not accustomed to moving development projects forward,” Zoffinger said of the NJSEA. To improve that kind of inefficiency, he reduced the agency’s staff by about 20% when Gov. James McGreevey first appointed him to the post in March 2002.

“We are making progress, given the current economic environment,” he said, noting that the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford currently faces a $14.5-million operating deficit.

He also added that because of the way the leases were originally structured, the state loses $81,000 every time the New Jersey Devils play hockey at the arena. And, taxpayers lose more than $40,000 each time the Nets play a game of basketball.

Thus far, six RFPs to redevelop the 104-acre site–located with the Meadowlands Sports Complex–have been received by the NJSEA. The proposals will be on display for two weeks for public viewing at the Bergen County seat and they will also be “circulating” throughout the towns in the region, Zoffinger noted.

The redevelopment is expected to be completed by mid-2005. In the meantime, Zoffinger said he would not forget about the other seven sporting/gaming facilities controlled by his agency.

At some point in 2003, he expects the NJSEA to debate whether ‘Off Track Betting’, phone betting, video lottery terminals and slot machines will be profitable ventures for the state.

Following Zoffinger’s speech, Real Estate New Jersey Editor Eric Peterson moderated a Townhall panel, during which time a group of esteemed real estate professionals confessed that the state’s office sector won’t improve until corporate malfeasance issues are addressed and the business community regains the public’s trust.

Mack-Cali Realty CEO Mitchell Hersh said: “We are going to go through a difficult time that will probably last until there’s a turnaround in the ‘psychology of the business community.’”

“Obviously we continue to face some significant challenges in the real estate business in New Jersey,” added Christopher Kinum, senior managing director, branch manager of Cushman & Wakefield of New Jersey Inc. “There is a tremendous amount of sublease space on the market and office vacancy rates are approaching 20%.

“In the past year, we [the public] have been told three times that the recession is over,” he said. “We can’t keep making these statements to consumers.”

On a positive note, Hersh claimed that the New Jersey marketplace is stronger than most markets throughout the nation. “We have the largest macroeconomic base in the Northeast and can draw from a lot of different industries and submarkets,” he continued, adding that the Garden State’s solid labor pool will bolster an eventual recovery.

“I have lived through these cyclical times for 28 years, personally,” Hersh said. “And this is a different cycle. But we have confidence in the ability of this marketplace to recover.”

The RealShare New Jersey Conference marks the second in the Real Estate Media Conference Series. The first event was held Sept. 25 in Dallas at the Westin Galleria. The next conference will take place Oct. 9 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

For more information, contact Richard Kelley at Real Estate Media, Inc., 212-929-7105, or e-mail [email protected] Complete program details and online registration are available at www.remediainc.com.

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