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No. 3: George Norcross

Commercial Real Estate Power 50

George Norcross

Anyone trying to navigate New Jersey politics will not get very far before hearing the name George Norcross. The Camden County political powerbroker, executive chairman at Conner Strong & Buckelew and chairman of the board of trustees at Cooper University Health Care, is widely regarded as the state’s most powerful unelected individual.

Norcross played a leading role in crafting the Christie-era Grow New Jersey corporate tax breaks, which were expanded in 2013 and are now the subject of scrutiny by the Murphy administration.

Norcross has played some part in virtually every profitable real estate transaction in Camden, including those on the Delaware River waterfront. The properties are valued at hundreds of millions of dollars and have reshaped the city’s economy – for good or ill.

Either Norcross himself was involved or firms affiliated with him were. Those entities include Optimus Partners and Parker McCay; [his brother Philip is an executive at both, according to a task force Murphy put together to scrutinize the state’s tax incentive programs.] For example, nuclear parts manufacturer Holtec International, where George Norcross is an executive, moved to a massive new office tower in Camden, a property valued at $150 million and owned by the South Jersey Port Corp. American Water, which was a client of Optimus Partners, does business in a new office tower atop three waterfront acres valued at $49 million.

Murphy’s task force has alleged that Norcross and his allies have manipulated the system to their advantage. But Norcross and Camden city offi-cials dispute the allegations. They argue that Norcross-related development has been vital to the economic revival of Camden, often considered the poorest city in the state and one of the most impoverished nationwide. Only lucrative tax breaks would lure companies that would otherwise never consider the city.

Public policy watchdogs have pointed to more examples of his real estate influence across the region. For one, the language of New Jersey’s 2018 sports betting legislation – which crafted a regulatory framework for the business – was written to allow sports bets to be accepted at Towne Place at Garden State Park, the site of a former racetrack and now a commercial and residential development owned by Norcross allies Jack Morris and Joseph Marino.

Despite the controversy, Norcross is arguably the most important economic actor in southern New Jersey. Wherever Camden is going, Norcross will be largely responsible for getting it there.

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