It was 2006, and former Hamilton High School West football player Kevin Johnson had just finished up a seven-year career in the NFL that saw him play for the Cleveland Browns, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, and Detroit Lions.
With more than 4,500 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns, and 384 passes caught, Johnson had what few can — a successful career as a professional athlete. But retirement didn’t last long. As a man accustomed to a lifetime of setting goals and working hard to meet them, Johnson immediately began looking for his next challenge.
“When I left the National Football League, I had a goal of opening up a fitness and wellness center,” says Johnson. “I started looking for some real estate and it sort of morphed and grew.”
With his friend Dylan Leith, Johnson founded the real estate development firm K. Johnson Enterprises in Hamilton. The firm is in the process of developing a 32-acre site known as Team Campus at Bordentown, located on Route 130 near Mastoris’ Diner.
Team Campus will encompass five buildings and 228,000 square feet of new construction on the former Agway site. The site will include three office buildings — a 78,500-square-foot three-story building, a 30,000-square-foot two-story building, and a 15,800-square-foot two-story building — as well as a 3,100-square-foot single-story building and a 76,000-square-foot two-story fitness center. These will abut a 26,000-square-foot indoor practice field.
Final site plan approval was granted by the Bordentown redevelopment committee in 2008, and approval by the state Department of Environmental Protection was granted in January. The plans called for demolition of existing buildings, with the exception of grain storage facilities occupied by Perdue.
“In order to be special and in order to be different, you can’t be afraid to take a chance, get your hands dirty, and work hard,” Johnson says. “I appreciate development and developers so much more than I did before I got into this.”
The fitness center at the heart of Team Campus will be named Team 85 Fitness in honor of Johnson’s NFL number.
“It was never my intention to start developing land,” Johnson says. “I wanted to start a health center, but somewhere along the line I started becoming a developer, and developing relationships with good people in the area.”
Over the last several years Johnson has had to learn a thing or two about getting things done in New Jersey. Because the firm is dealing with a former industrial site, Johnson needed approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection to build. He has been forced to work with engineers, officials, and planners. He has even worked toward getting approval for a traffic light — no easy feat, he says.
K. Johnson also has had to work with Perdue Farms because of existing grain silos. Plus there are AT&T, Cricket Communications, and T-Mobile, each of which sees a juicy piece of real estate on which to put cell towers.
Johnson’s original plan was to buy a five-acre site for his health club, but upon seeing the area with Leith, the dream got bigger. Thanks to a strong support group of builders and engineers, including V.J. Scozzari & Sons, attorneys Michael Mann and Mark Solomon, Herb Ames from the Devin Group, Randy Hanks, president of First Choice Bank, and Casa Bella Design Firm, Johnson was able to get the project off the ground.
“It was really a blessing from God and we’re just playing the course out,” Johnson says. “We looked at that area and looked at the commercial development that was going up on Route 130 and we thought that once that development reaches Bordentown, we would be in a prime location. We thought, ‘Why don’t we just do it ourselves?’ So we broke everything out, cleared the desk, and started throwing out ideas. We reached out to our professionals and had our engineer develop a site plan.”
Johnson is no stranger to finding success through hard work. His father died when he was 12, but his mother saw him through Hamilton High West and Syracuse University, where he earned his degree in 1998 as a history education major with a minor in business. He was red-shirted during his freshman year at Syracuse (meaning that he would be on the team, even if he didn’t get in the game), rode the bench during his sophomore year, and started to play as a junior. A starter during his senior year, he went on to become an All American and was the 32nd pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Browns.
“I didn’t play football for the first three years, and it just shows that with hard work, good things can happen,” he says. “Sometimes you can work hard and you don’t win, that doesn’t mean you should quit.”
Sometimes you just need to change your approach. Johnson became a receiver in college because he lost out on being Syracuse’s quarterback to a guy named Donovan McNabb, now the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“We have learned a lot and have enjoyed it along the way,” he says. “The economy is very tough right now, and it’s tough dealing with different professionals. We have had to persevere through a lot during the approval process. For two guys to pull this off, it showed a lot of hard work and is a credit to the professionals and people who supported us along the way.”
“We worked with a lot of great people in Bordentown Township,” he says. “The mayor was great, the planner was great. The Planning Board really worked with us. They had their doubts and didn’t believe that a young guy could tackle such an ambitious project, but we have such great people around us for guidance.”
Johnson approaches many challenges with an eagerness and excitement that he says sets him apart from other companies. “If you’re going to do it right, then you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. A lot of people are afraid to take chances, people are afraid to get out of their comfort zone,” he says.