Red Bulls complex is latest major project for Gensler, in N.J. and beyond

Given the forested, semi-rural appearance of the tract where a massive sports complex is being envisioned by Gensler, it’s hard to avoid the “if you build it, they will come” reference.

But it’s too fitting for what that global architecture, design and planning firm is hoping to achieve. It wants to draw athletes from around the region to the nondescript former Honeywell headquarters in Morris Plains.

It’s planning on housing not just the New York Red Bulls Major League Soccer team at the new training complex it’s building, but also aspiring athletes from a wide geographical region that participate in the soccer organization’s youth development programs.

The team, which plays home games not too far away, at Harrison’s Red Bull Arena, went through a Request for Proposal process to bring its own soccer professionals as well as professional hopefuls that it trains through an academy system under one roof.

Jonathan Emmett, principal and design director at Gensler, said the firm was chosen to guide architectural and design planning for the facility for its valued experience internationally with sports arenas and training facilities. The announcement that it would be leading design of the training complex was made earlier this month.

Gensler’s N.J. projects

Here are other projects Gensler, with an office in Morristown, officially has in the works in the Garden State:

  • 1888 Studios, Bayonne: A vacant property near the Bayonne Bridge is being transformed into the state’s largest film and television studio. The site consists of 17 buildings.
  • CSG Law headquarters, Roseland: Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi P.C. is wrapping up a move from a longtime West Orange base to a new four-story headquarters.
  • Gateway, Newark: The $60 million redevelopment project had a debut last year of its grand entryway that will connect the Gateway complex to Newark Penn Station.
  • M Station at Morristown: Morristown’s transformative commercial project replaces a suburban strip mall and surface parking lot with a new mixed-use development.
  • Organon Headquarters, Jersey City: Organon, a women’s health company that was spun off of Merck & Co., is bringing its workforce to a new home in a Jersey City high-rise.
  • Valley Bank headquarters, Morristown: One of the biggest names in community banking in the state is moving its headquarters from Wayne to a new built-to-suit workplace in Morristown’s downtown district.

Among the firm’s past projects are Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Arena, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers. It also led efforts in designing two of the more recent Major League Soccer venues, built in Toronto and Los Angeles.

This is the first complex of its sort to be built in New Jersey. The site Gensler worked on selecting for it was the 465,000-square-foot former headquarters of Honeywell, which the Fortune 100 company sold in 2021 to move to a new headquarters in North Carolina.

While Emmett speaks of the rural charm of the site, he acknowledges it’s also nestled into a residential community.

“And that’s why we’re making sure this doesn’t feel like a walled-off environment,” he said. “The landscaping will maintain existing trails around the perimeter of the site, which will be open for local residents to use, as well as players and families using the site for its intended purpose. … We also wanted natural light, natural ventilation and spaces with great views of the beautiful, pastoral setting.”

Gensler plans on breaking ground on the site’s construction later this year. The first phase of the project will come online in 2025.

Emmett said the phased approach to the build-out made sense for the campus-like quality of the complex, which will have separated training buildings and eight soccer fields.

Due to the fact that so many athletes are meant to use the training center across different programs, including summer camps, the scale of the project is greater than most professional soccer team facilities, Emmett said.

“The underriding philosophy here is creating an environment where a young player in the soccer system will aspire to rise up through the academy’s ranks,” he said. “Having that close physical proximity to the professional team is very intentional in terms of creating that aspirational model.”

Emmett, who grew up in England, is thrilled about his team being entrusted with this vision.

On a personal level, there’s few opportunities more gratifying.

“I grew up playing soccer and later coaching youth soccer,” he said. “There’s a great deal of personal fulfillment in a project like this one — for sure.”