Nearly three years ago, Onyx Equities clinched one of the biggest real estate transactions ever in New Jersey when the firm purchased most of Newark’s Gateway Center complex. The office buildings were connected to Newark Penn Station and each other by a series of elevated concourses, many of which were lined with restaurants and stores. But it was all separate from the city. Onyx promised to change that and undertook a significant renovation project. Then the pandemic hit and office buildings emptied out.
So, what’s been happening at the center of New Jersey’s largest city? NJBIZ recently spoke with Onyx Co-founder and Managing Principal Jonathan Schultz about the future of the office, the progress at Gateway and in Newark as a whole.
“COVID obviously stopped everything for a while, but I see an unbelievable change and how people are looking at now what work will be. And I see it slowly but surely picking up and occupancy is picking up,” he said. “Every company has a different way they’re going to look at it. Every division within a company is going to have a different way they look at it. But, all in all, I see a nice push forward on everyone getting back, reuniting with each other and it all moving forward in a positive way.”
What follows is an abridged version of that conversation, edited for length and clarity. The full interview is available at njbiz.com/njbizconversations.
NJBIZ: First, I’m curious in general about the status of renovations at Gateway. How far have you come, where do you need to go from here?
Jonathan Schultz: Well they’re well on their way. Obviously we went through this COVID thing which we’re all still going through and trying to come out on the other side. One
positive was because there weren’t as many people in the buildings during our construction we actually were able to go faster. Because being that this is a major public space, thousands of people coming through it, not only to enter their offices every day, but to go through from mass transportation, the Prudential Center … that’s why it’s called the Gateway Center. We didn’t have to change that name — it’s the perfect name. … When you walk through there now compared to 18 months, two years ago, it’s an unbelievable difference, the energy of a transformation, which is what we want to do.
Q: Again, can you give us an update on where you are on one of the main components of what you’re doing, which is to open the Gateway Center to the street? How far are you from being able to do that now?
A: Well, we’re shooting [for] the first quarter. … Construction, always has its issues during the build but we’re pushing forward and it looks good. Yes, we are opening this thing up. We want this to be a community environment, so where the Gateway was always closed off and you had different concourses and pathways to get in we’re doing a two story jewel box, which we call it, which is right across from the train station. It’s all glass, it’s an atrium and you’re going to come into this very cool new beautiful environment with restaurants and retail and amenities and it’s going to feel like a real place to be. And we’re excited about it.
Obviously, having such a demand for leasing activity for new concepts to come into Newark during COVID when no one knew what was up. We were never going to have something delivered to our house for the rest of our lives. We’re so excited to have this sort of come together in such a positive way.
Q: Okay, now the restaurants. It’s an interesting variety. You’ve got Italian, fried chicken, dumplings, cookies. What was the thinking there, what were you looking for when you were planning what kind of places you’re going to have there?
A: We wanted you to never leave. All week long you will always have a new choice to eat something different. We were very, very, very particular in the curation of this. we wanted to have all different types of cuisines … you can pick something new, each day.
Obviously, these are all unbelievable operators and great dishes, so we wanted it to be where not only the tenants in the building who are going to be there and enjoying it. We wanted the community to always feel they can come in and have something interesting. And that’s what I think we’re providing in a big way.
Q: That’s what I was getting at — this was an act of curation on your part, you were looking for the kinds of places that that would provide that kind of variety.
A: We had a diversity of menu, cuisine concepts … these are a lot of new brands that are growing … so we’re excited to have them on board.
Q: I’m curious about what the conversations were like with those restaurants. Was it a tough sell for you to get them to come to Gateway or were they looking for a new away access to that kind of traffic?
A: I think they believe in Newark, what an amazing community. It’s got universities, corporate headquarters, culture. I mean if you look at New Jersey, there are lots of spots that have pieces of that. Newark encompasses it all. And it’s a very concentrated area. … So I think people want to be around what’s coming, and what will be. And I think Newark offers that and it has such amazing building blocks … which is great, but to actually be greater as people come in and enjoy and see it and and be a part of it. So we’re in we’re very excited to be a catalyst of that.
Q: OK, and my understanding is you had one spot — one restaurant spot that you were going to open up to a competition among local Newark restaurateurs. Is that still going on?
A: We’re going to do that. We were actually talking about that yesterday. We’re relaunching it and, yes, we’re going to build out a brand-new restaurant for a local Newark operator. We can’t wait to kick that off and get that going. It’s going to be very exciting.
We’re committed to the community, and this is just one way we think we can add value and that’s all we can do as far as being a building owner. But we were so happy to be a part of doing that.
Q: Now one of the other things you were planning was a job fair to try to connect the new restaurants with some local workers. My understanding is that was supposed to take place, I think, in the first quarter of 2022. Is that still on?
A: One hundred percent — we were talking about that yesterday as well. Obviously, that’s going to lag behind. We want to build out the spaces and get everybody open. But all the restaurateurs are so excited about that. When you open a new restaurant or a business it’s so important to understand and be a part of the community. And these operators who’ve been in business 30 years, 20 years, 10 years, with not only these concepts that are coming in, but other concepts that have been very successful in the past and continue to be. They know how important it is to have local talent and people understanding what they want to deliver to the community and the experience that they want to offer and we’re excited to have so many great new ones come in and be a part of that together. We’re all planning that and that is definitely going to happen and we’re excited to launch that as well.
Q: In my experience Newark partisans are extraordinarily devoted to the city. They love the place and they work really hard to make it succeed. I’m interested in what your relationship is with some of those people, and some of those institutions — the Performing Arts Center, Symphony Hall and especially the universities, which obviously bring in a big population to the city. How closely, if at all, are you working with those folks? What are those conversations like?
A: We are meeting and getting to know all of them in person. I’m a people person, so when I’m in a new area of anything I just can’t wait to get to know, and I love to learn about what everyone else is doing. So, we made a concerted effort to get to know our community from the Prudential Center to the different corporations to the town and the community itself.
I think we’re doing a pretty good job getting to know the community and hopefully the community is getting to know us. You build trust and because we’re all looking for the same thing — leave something better than you had it before. That is the mantra that we live by with our company. We always want to get in there and make it better than it was before. That’s what we’re trying to do in Newark.