The most interesting quote I saw is: "In order to build anything over the rail yards, they have to be covered with a platform. By this logic, the $375 million is not a gift but a necessary expense to turn the rail yards into a developable site."
N.J. honcho takes aim at the Jets, Nets
and mayor over arena controversies
By MICHAEL O'KEEFFE
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
The Jets will take Manhattan, the Nets are ready to bolt to Brooklyn and the Devils are still making noise about Newark. So why isn't the man who runs the Meadowlands throwing buckets of taxpayer money at those teams to keep them in East Rutherford?
Maybe it's because George Zoffinger, president of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, is a rare breed: a public official who believes taxpayers should not be required to subsidize millionaire athletes and owners. Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki and other New York politicians have become cheerleaders for the proposed Nets arena in Brooklyn and the West Side Jets stadium, claiming the projects will create jobs and spur development. But Zoffinger believes the Jets, Nets and their political allies are feeding the public hollow promises, exaggerated economic benefits and hidden costs.
"It's all a scam," Zoffinger says. "But times are changing. Taxpayers are not that stupid."
Zoffinger's biggest criticism is aimed at the Jets - the team, he says, has not been straight with the public. A report released earlier this month by the city Independent Budget Office says the club inflated projected revenues and jobs created by the West Side Stadium. Last week, it was reported that the Jets may seek tax-exempt financing to pay for part of their $800-million contribution to the proposed $1.4 billion.
As for the Nets, Zoffinger says New Jersey may be better off if the team moves, because former Gov. Christine Whitman's administration had agreed to a lopsided lease arrangment in 1996. He talked to the Daily News last week.
DN: What was your reaction when you learned that the Nets' economic impact report assumes the Continental Arena will close if the Atlantic Yards Complex is built?
GZ: We've made it very clear that the Continental Arena is not going to close. We lose money on the Nets and Devils leases. We make money on concerts and family shows, things that run on the dates when the teams are not using the building. I made it clear that we wanted to bring some fiscal responsibility to this place, that we were not going to subsidize the teams with attractive leases where we lost money. I made that clear to the Nets and the Devils, and lo and behold, they both went out looking for a better deal.
DN: That's heresy! Public officials used to do anything they could to keep a team from moving.
GZ: It's all about choices. In New Jersey, I convinced the governor that we could run a profitable building and a profitable agency if we didn't have to subsidize these team owners. He then could make the more logical choice to spend that money on education, on health care, on environmental protection. At the time, it was a difficult decision. We were afraid there would be a large outcry. What we found is exactly the opposite. The taxpayers have applauded the fact that we've made these choices and that we're standing up to people who were basically asking for corporate welfare.
DN: New Jersey might find itself someday without any pro teams. Would that be okay?
GZ: We are comfortable with that. We have made the choice that we are going to spend the money on education, health care, environmental protection, things that matter to people. We lose about $2.5 million a year on the arena. That includes losing about $8.2 million on the Nets and Devils. That means we make almost $6 million on other events. If we were to take the dates the Nets and Devils use, which is basically 120 days a year, and do concerts and family shows on half of those dates, I believe we could have an arena that has a profitability of $10 to $12 million a year.
DN: What do you think of the Jets' proposal? Do you think it will create the jobs and the economic development the Jets and their allies promise?
GZ: I'm very much a free-market capitalist. If the Jets want a new stadium and they can build it with their own money, that should be supported. But they have basically misled people.
DN: What have they misled people about?
GZ: The jobs-creation numbers. I run Giants Stadium, so every NFL game at Giants Stadium, I know exactly how many jobs there are. The Jets claim there will be 6,900 jobs. The city in their economic report knocked that number in half. In fact, the city is wrong. There are far less jobs, and most of the jobs that take place during an NFL game are part-time jobs. . . .The other problem I have, is the impact on the fans. In this entire discussion, nobody has talked about the fans. Ticket prices are going to go up substantially. The emphasis is on suite holders, club seat holders, all of the ultra rich that can pay these higher prices for these events. Today, 60% of Jets fans that go to that stadium every week are New Jersey residents. They're working-class people. If the Jets' plan goes forward, you end up with 75,000 investment bankers, who are paying, we think the minium ticket price will be, upwards of $120-$130 dollars.
DN: They certainly don't seem to understand the average NFL fan when they make little or no provision for tailgating.
GZ: At Giants Stadium for every Jets game, we have between 30 and 40 million tons of garbage. We have 240 portajohns for tailgaters. People start arriving for a 1 o'clock game at 9 in the morning. they leave our parking lot at 7 or 8 at night. Where are people going to go? The parks of New York or the streets of New York? The Jets have said they are considering having tailgating on the New Jersey side and let people take ferries over. Let me make this clear: They are nuts. We are never doing that. They are never having tailgating in New Jersey and the game in New York. Okay?
DN: Why are politicians so enamored with stadiums and arenas?
GZ: Now you're going to get me in trouble (laughs). There is some kind of love affair between politicians and athletic events that is not very understandable to the everyday businessman. I cannot understand for the life of me why an intelligent businessman like Michael Bloomberg would be in favor of such a bad way to spend your money. . . . I guess it goes all the way back to the Roman Colosseum, they are enamored with athletes. I guess they think it gets them votes.
DN: Didn't New Jersey start all this by luring the Jets and Nets away from New York?
GZ: No question. I would love to see New York take care of the Yankees and the Mets. Let us take care of the Jets and the Nets so we are not bidding against each other and drive up the price for both of us. That makes sense to me.
DN: Would some kind of regional planning strategy make sense? Does the region need a Port Authority for sports facilities?
GZ: It only benefits the team owners and hurts the fans and the taxpayers to have a continuation of thse interstate rivalries. It doesn't do any of us any good to have those kind of battles.
DN: What about Brooklyn? It's interesting that boosters used to say stadiums and arenas were good for economic development. Now they have to tie them to a bigger project to maintain that claim.
GZ: Brooklyn is not a deal about the Nets. It's a real-estate transaction. It's a little pizzazz to a plan that would not have gotten on people's radar screens if it wasn't for the arena. You can understand why somebody like (Nets owner Bruce) Ratner would do that. But I think our politicians need to be a lot smarter. They don't have to give the state subsidies. They don't have to throw people out of their houses.
DN: Are stadiums ever good investments for taxpayers?
GZ: I think they can be good investments when the city or the state works with the entity and the entity pays a fair rent, like Giants Stadium. Giants Stadium is profitable for the state taxpayers because they pay a fair rent.