Kevin Johnson at the Team Campus construction site.
Photos by Suzette Lucas

Drive along Route 130 in Bordentown and you can’t miss it: Just off the highway is a towering sky-blue grain elevator with the words “Team Campus” painted on the side. The complex of buildings all around it also belong to Team Campus, including the 120,000 square-foot Team85 Fitness and Wellness Center, an office building, Fulton Financial bank, Performance Spine and Sports Medicine, St. Francis Medical Center and St. Francis Life, and Daniels Vein and Cosmetic Center.

This summer the grain elevator is coming down to make way for a new phase of expansion at Team Campus: 222 apartments, including 92 senior units on the other side of the highway, a retail complex, and a medical office building. The commercial and retail space now under construction totals 175,000 square feet. “It’s going to be a one-stop shop type of situation,” says Kevin Johnson, the former National Football League receiver who owns the 57-acre plot where Team Campus opened in 2016. Eighty-five was Johnson’s jersey number. “If you look at it from the ecosystem point of view, we can feed them, we can house them, we can train them, and we have medical services right here on site,” he says.

When everything that has been approved is finally built, Johnson’s project will be almost a small town on its own within Bordentown Township, with a total of 700,000 square feet of buildings. Johnson estimates the project will cost $100 million to build. His main financer so far is Amboy Bank, which has lent him roughly $50 million.

Johnson’s post-NFL career is far from typical for former football players. While many of his peers have gone into business, few have returned to their home states to create their own real estate empires. “I have no partners,” he says. “I own everything myself.”

Johnson, now 42, grew up in Hamilton where his mother was a single parent. He was a star football player at Hamilton High School West, and then went to Syracuse where he played wide receiver. Johnson was the first in his family to graduate from college with a degree in history education and a minor in African American studies. The Cleveland Browns drafted him in the second round of the 1999 draft, 32nd overall, and he stayed with that team for five seasons. Later he played for Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Detroit. His career ended in 2005 when he injured his Achilles tendon.

During his time in the NFL Johnson was paid millions every year for his talents. But what casual sports fans and some players fail to realize is that players usually have to make that money last for the rest of their lives. And a football career can be cut short at any moment with an injury, as happened to Johnson. The money can run out quickly. A 2009 Sports Illustrated article estimated that 78 percent of NFL players were either bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of retirement.

Fortunately for Johnson, he had a mentor who helped him make better decisions with his money. “Troy Vincent was a great friend as well as a role model,” Johnson said. “He explained the dos and dont’s, and how to be smart with your money.” Vincent, a former cornerback, today is the number two executive with the NFL, as vice president of football. He is also a Trenton native, and the two would play basketball together in the off season.

Vincent has his own record of business ventures that, according to press reports, include an NHRA racing team, an overnight shipping company, a concierge service for athletes, real estate development, and financial, insurance, and business, services firms, some of which went out of business.

Johnson said many NFL players are young, inexperienced, and earning large amounts of money for the first time in their lives. “It’s really tough for a 19 or 21-year-old kid. You give them millions, and they say, ‘Hey, what do I do with it?’” Johnson said there are many people who seek to take advantage of players who might not be too financially savvy. Johnson said Vincent took him aside and made him understand that he had to take the money he was making then and make it last a lifetime by investing it wisely. Johnson remembers Vincent telling him, “The day you enter football, you should start thinking about retirement.” Johnson decided to invest in real estate on the logic that “no one is making more land.”

Even while he was playing, Johnson bought condos and townhouses in and around his hometown.

He says he began thinking bigger in 2005 as he was in Alabama getting treatment for his career-ending injury from celebrity athletic surgeon James Andrews and physical therapist Kevin Wilk. Johnson talked over his future plans with the two. They noted that health and fitness-related businesses could be a good opportunity because more people were becoming health conscious. “Everyone wants to live longer and healthier,” he says. Johnson began to think of ways to integrate fitness with regular daily lifestyle as well as medical practices. It didn’t hurt that Johnson knew from experience what kind of facilities and equipment athletes needed in order to train.

It’s little wonder that 10 years later, when Johnson opened Team85 Fitness and Wellness Center, the business more resembled a high-end athletic training facility than a typical suburban gym.

The facility is divided into two parts: a fitness center and a field house. The two-story fitness center features smart weight machines that allow users to follow pre-programmed workouts on their membership cards. It also includes multiple ranks of treadmills, a darkened cardio cinema where members can watch Netflix on a big screen, a yoga studio, a spinning studio, a day care, a cafe that serves $7 health smoothies, a swimming pool, free weights, and a running track that meanders through the building, and a salon and spa. The kid’s section offers classes in karate, tumbling, birthday parties, and other activities.

The field house boasts an indoor turf soccer field and basketball courts, which host recreational leagues for soccer, basketball, and seven-on-seven football. For serious athletes, there are football blocking sleds, batting cages, basketball shooting machines, Olympic weightlifting equipment, and functional power equipment. “It’s what you would find in any pro locker room or training facility,” Johnson says. “You can do any practical football movement or basketball movement. We have everything that you would need, from amateur all the way up to a professional athlete.”

It also has something else you would find in a pro locker room: Kevin Johnson himself. He says he works out at the gym often, cycling alongside seniors or mentoring athletes. At a recent walk-through of the fitness center, he pointed out guests by name, including one 82-year-old weightlifter. “Can you believe it?” he said.

Kevin Johnson with plans for the expanded Team Campus.

With its location near I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike, Johnson intended for Team85 to become a destination for aspiring athletes from around the region. And it appears to be working. Johnson rattled off a list of stars who train or have trained at Team85: Rookie Miami Dolphins safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, pro basketball player Malachi Richardson, Syracuse point guard Tyus Battle, and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas, among others.

Memberships cost $60 a month, with a discount for couples and families.

Both the field house and the fitness center are decorated in the Syracuse colors, orange and blue. Everywhere you turn are inspirational slogans that Johnson picked out: “Dream big. Effort is free. Never give up.”

Seeing Team Campus through to completion required some perseverance on Johnson’s part. Construction began in 2011 and was supposed to take a year and a half, but disputes and slowdowns plagued the project at first. In 2012 unions protested the contractor that was building the site, who were using non-union labor.

Johnson says he learned a lot about the real estate business from his early experiences building Team Campus. “I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of not-so-good people we hired, and I learned from those things through all the ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve learned through hard knocks and from going through the recession.”

Johnson said he had people steal from him and contractors lie. There were lawsuits, and Johnson didn’t win all of them. “Construction is a bad business. There is not a lot of integrity, and you’ve got to fight your way through it.”

Johnson believes that people have attempted to take advantage of him due to a mistaken sterotype of the athlete who doesn’t know how to manage his money. “I think the stigma of being a pro athlete is that you don’t know what you’re doing and you should stay in your lane. That you have a lot of money and you have no oversight of it. And it’s sad because you have to overcome so much of that stereotype and that stigma. It’s tough but I welcome the challenge. You’ve got to overcome people taking advantage of situations and lying.”

Johnson advised anyone else getting into this line of business to perform due diligence about who you work with, and to back up every business deal with proper contracts and paperwork.

Despite the trials and tribulations, the health club opened in January, 2016. Johnson says it has around 6,000 members and employs 150 people. The new apartments will likely provide another source of members for the club to boot.

“I love being a competitor,” Johnson says. “I think if it was easy, everyone would do it.”

Team85 Fitness and Wellness Center, 8500 K. Johnson Boulevard, Bordentown 08505. 609-298-8585. Kevin Johnson.

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