SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Jon Niemuth

JON NIEMUTH
ELERBE BECKET

By Don Muret      
Staff writer

Jon Niemuth
Age: 35
Titles: Principal and design director
Company: Ellerbe Becket
Education: B.S., architectural studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1992; master's in architecture, master's in urban planning, UW-Milwaukee, 1995
Family: Wife, Julie; two daughters, Maddy and Anne; son, Jack
Career: Was a designer for Plunkett Raysich Architects in Milwaukee from 1993-1995; moved to Ellerbe Becket in September 1995.
Last vacation: Dubuque, Iowa
Last book read: "David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens
Last movie seen: "Bewitched"
Pet peeve: The lack of ambition and drive to be successful
Fantasy job: Co-host of "This Old House"
Executive most admired: Hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons
Business advice: Know where you want to go, both in life or in business, and draw a straight line to that goal and stay focused. The in-between highs and lows are not as important as long as you are making progress toward the ultimate goal.

Jon Niemuth first caught the design bug as a high schooler pushing wheelbarrows of dirt while helping his grandfather and uncle build a house in Appleton, Wis.

"I sort of fell into [architecture], coming from a family of handy people that would fix and build stuff," Niemuth said.

"I took a drafting course in high school, and the whole art-slash-sculpture-slash-painting-slash-drawing combination was a natural blend, the fix-it with the creative. Later on, I built a garage for my parents and a deck for my [eventual] in-laws. They had a vested interest to make sure their future son-in-law was taken care of."

Last year, at the age of 35, Niemuth became a principal shareholder for Ellerbe's sports practice after five of the company's six principals left en masse for HOK Sport. He is working on designing a University of Oregon basketball arena to appeal to Nike founder Phil Knight, one of the most powerful men in sports and the primary donor for the project.

In 1997, Niemuth was a project designer in the early stages of planning a new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks as the team waited for approval of public funding to help build Qwest Field.

When the Seattle stadium started construction in 1999, Niemuth moved on to start planning Rentschler Field, the University of Connecticut's new football stadium in Storrs.

In 2001, Niemuth assumed the task as lead designer for FedEx Forum, a home for the Memphis Grizzlies in the heart of the city's historic entertainment district.

The job provided him the opportunity to peruse his father's vintage jazz and blues record collection as he researched the heritage behind the "Memphis sound," a design theme resonating throughout the arena.

"Each of those three are so different," Niemuth said. "The purposeful collegiate stadium and the fact that there's only a handful of new ones; the Seahawks, which is different on the pro level; and Memphis, a great arena on a great site."

Niemuth's ideas for using FedEx Forum as a vehicle to promote the city's musical history were instrumental in allowing the Grizzlies to develop six sponsored spaces on the facility's two public concourses, said Don Hardman, president for Cascade Sports Group in Vancouver and the NBA team's former vice president for arena operations.

The themed spaces were included in sponsorship packages that the Grizzlies sold for prices ranging from the high six figures to low seven figures, team officials said when the arena opened in 2004.

Niemuth isn't ego-driven, a refreshing quality in the world of sports architecture, said Kelly Kerns, a designer for HOK Sport and project manager for Qwest Field when he worked for Ellerbe Becket.

"It's rare to have someone who is talented, skilled, intelligent and creative, yet at the same time be well-grounded," Kerns said.

For the Oregon arena, Niemuth is working in tandem with Knight and university officials to design the ultimate college basketball arena, a building that could very well be the collegiate world's most elaborate and expensive on-campus indoor venue.

"It's going to be a great project," Niemuth said.

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