TIGER TOWN: Gensler completed a study last year for renovating Paycor Stadium, home of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals, with an estimated cost of about $500 million. (AP Photo)
Shift in leadership at two sports design firms
Sports architect Jon Niemuth’s surprise move from AECOM to Gensler triggered a shift in leadership at both design firms as they plan for the future in a market bursting with arena and stadium projects.
Niemuth, previously a vice president with AECOM and its director of sports in the Americas in Kansas City, Missouri, joins Gensler as director of sports in Los Angeles. It was officially announced May 10.
In turn, AECOM Sports promoted Greg Brown as managing principal and Scott Sayers as director of operations in Kansas City. Plus, principal Steve Terrill has been elevated to regional director of sports in the company’s Richmond, Virginia office.
Those moves were announced a few days before the Niemuth news.
“The timing was accelerated with this transition,” Brown said. “We’re in a good spot; the wheels had been in motion for a little while. Jon is a friend and mentor. He’s got to make decisions that are best for him. Jon played a significant role in my career and did a great job leading this office for many years.”
Niemuth’s jump to Gensler is a bit of an anomaly in the world of sports architecture, considering he made the switch after spending 28 years at AECOM, dating to the old Ellerbe Becket. It’s not unusual for architects to work for multiple firms, but in most cases, they don’t wait close to 30 years to make a change.
For Niemuth, the opportunity to join Gensler Sports and relocate to sunny California was too good to pass up, he said. He’ll be on the front end of pursuing work much like he did at AECOM over the past decade, spending most of his time on the road.
Gensler’s LA office has 600 employees spread across several disciplines. On its own, the sports group is working on several high profile projects, including renovations to Citi Field, Paycor Stadium and M&T Bank Stadium, and the mixed-use development tied to Oak View Group’s arena project in Las Vegas.
Niemuth’s transition to Gensler started more than one year ago through initial conversations with Andre Brumfield, a global director with Gensler in Chicago and Niemuth’s old college roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. As professionals, they’ve kept in touch over 30 years.
“Live everything else in my life, it started with a friend,” Niemuth said. “At the time, I was in Chicago for some other meetings. Andre and I always get together for drinks when I’m in town. We started talking and he told me he was on the board of directors and they were looking to make some key hires to fuel growth and long term stability.”
In addition, Niemuth knew several Gensler Sports architects, such as Demetra Thornton, Jonathan Emmett and Ryan Sickman, who spent about one year at AECOM before joining Gensler in 2015, where he is director of sports in their Washington, D.C. office. Niemuth kept a close eye on Gensler’s body of work, most notably at Moody Center and Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, and the Intuit Dome, the LA Clippers’ new arena that opens in the summer of 2024, where the firm is designing some corporate office space.
“It wasn’t like I was walking into a completely unfamiliar setting and team,” Niemuth said. “They all had key strengths and I felt that the things that I do and am good at and passionate about were complimentary to all their respective skills. I started looking harder at what the next 15 years at AECOM were going to look like and the opportunity to get into a platform that would let me do bigger and better things. At some point, I felt like I needed to make a change.”
One person at Gensler that Niemuth had not met prior to his interviews was Ron Turner, a principal and global director of sports and who launched the company’s sports practice in 2008. In an interesting twist, Turner, now among the elder statesmen of sports design, left Ellerbe Becket in 1995, about one week before Niemuth went to work at the firm.
Now, they’re both moving in the same direction with the same company after essentially passing each other through the doors in KC.
Niemuth’s hire is part of Gensler expanding globally and hiring more architects, Turner said. Their sports practices are growing in China and Costa Rica, which have become hubs for Southeast Asia and South America projects, along with the LA, Austin and Washington hubs.
“We’re building a senior team of executives,” Turner said. “We’ve seen how Jon operates; we’ve competed against him and he does a great job. Now, he has even more arrows in his quiver with a platform to do what he does best and that’s to be aggressive and win amazing work and make the clients feel like we’re bringing more than they’re asking for. He’s going to fit perfectly at our firm.”
At AECOM Sports, Brown, employed with the firm for 17 years, said he would stay engaged in projects on the design side and as technical lead. Most recently, Brown has designed Foster Pavilion, Baylor University’s new 7,500-seat arena that opens in January. The firm’s work at the Waco, Texas school extends to designing a new football operations building along the Bezos River.
Elsewhere in the college space, AECOM is also doing extensive work with Clemson University’s football program, extending to a second phase of upgrades tied to Memorial Stadium, upgrading field level spaces and the reconfiguration of Lot 5, the school’s premier tailgating lot.
Sayers is AECOM’s go-to architect for NBA arena work, and he’s been principally involved in designing the Intuit Dome since 2016. Over 23 years at AECOM, he’s also designed Golden 1 Center, Barclays Center, Spectrum Center, FedEx Forum and AT&T Center.
“It’s a fast market and requires a lot of people,” Sayers said. “It dovetails nicely with what Greg and I are experiencing right now with new roles. We know a lot of people stepping up at AECOM with new opportunities.”