Onyx and Gensler’s new vision for Newark landmark

Jessica Perry//June 20, 2022

Onyx and Gensler’s new vision for Newark landmark

Jessica Perry//June 20, 2022

Gateway Center's new entranceway - the jewel box - blurs the line between the inside and out.
Gateway Center’s new entranceway – the jewel box – blurs the line between the inside and out. – JESSICA PERRY


Gateway Center’s new showcase entrance is directly across from historic Newark Penn Station. In fact, if you’re looking out from the four-building complex across Raymond Plaza, it frames the transit hub perfectly. But that view – that clear, wide-open view – is new. And it’s a complete 180-degree turn from not just the physical outlook the complex once offered, but from the perspective its first designers sought.

In 1967, the Brick City was rattled by the Newark Riots. Just weeks later, according to Roger Smith, principal and design director at Gensler, the original plans for what would become Gateway Center were announced by Victor Gruen. He designed Gateway 1 and Gateway 2, which were completed in the early 1970s; Gateway 3 and 4 would come later, designed by Grad Partnership and finished in the mid- to late 1980s. Gruen is most known for his work designing shopping malls in the suburbs.

Roger Smith, principal and design director at Gensler

“It was clear that the building was built as an inward-looking building,” Smith said. “Divorced from the life of the city.”

The complex is even connected by its own skyway – a series of corridors between the office buildings and Newark Penn Station, a Doubletree by Hilton, and now, several under-construction residential developments. But closed off from what’s going on outside. Kind of like a mall, which makes sense given Gruen’s focus. Or, as it’s been compared to throughout the years, a fortress. “So, each of those bridges on the second level bypassed any interaction on the street level, right?” Smith said, adding that the idea “must have been conceived in a way to kind of convince commuters that it would be safe to be in Newark during that period. But the reality is, every great city thrives because its streetscapes are activated and connected to the community.”

“We came on board to talk about a new vision for the project,” he said.

Creating cohesion

That new vision got its start after Gateways 1, 2 and 4 were acquired by Onyx Equities and its partners in 2018 and Gensler was named project architect.

John Saraceno Jr., Onyx Equities Co-founder and managing principal
Saraceno Jr.

“[L]et’s embrace the street rather than sort of break away from the street,” Onyx Equities Co-founder and Managing Principal John Saraceno Jr. told NJBIZ in May. “[I]t’s as much about people in this building going outside as it is to taking people outside, inside.”

Gateway’s recently unveiled main entrance starts to blur those lines, and as Saraceno pointed out: “The jewel box is all glass for a reason.”

Smith described the old façade as just a blank wall. Except for the parking that was available in front of the building. That was pulled back in order to make room for the two-story glass entrance that now greets visitors. Aside from glass frontage, the space is lit by the sky. The views – outward at the city’s transit hub and upward at Gateway tower – unmistakably locate you in Newark. “It has this incredible urban feel to it that just is a total transformation from what it was prior to this,” Smith said.

Wood tones in the jewel-box entranceway help to balance darker tones from charcoal-colored brick and steel elements that run throughout the space – Newark is, after all, the Brick City – fortifying the connection between the space and the community and creating a coherent theme. In addition to opening the complex up to the outside, the interior has a more open feel now, as well. Part of that, Saraceno said, was achieved by taking down all the doors. Dreary entrances to tower lobbies with revolving doors and key-card-required access are gone, replaced by wide, welcoming foyers. “So now that’s open all day long,” he said. And that exposure really makes the four-building complex feel like one unified structure.

Another element that aids in the cohesion that now extends throughout the complex is a concerted effort to create design consistency. Previously, mismatched floors ran throughout the concourse – a result of different owners doing different things at the properties. Now, the two-story retail connection at the center of Gateway’s concourse is called The Junction, another allusion to the city’s railway theme and industrial past.

The new entrance to Gateway Center in Newark is a two-story glass atrium, affectionately referred to as the jewel box.
The new entrance to Gateway Center in Newark is a two-story glass atrium, affectionately referred to as the jewel box. – JESSICA PERRY

New floors are uniform throughout the space – bright and suggestive of train tracks. “[W]e have these sort of lines that … run through the space. So, in some ways, it just becomes a new urban street,” Smith said. “You know, still on the upper levels, but connected directly to the street levels, so there’s a nice fluid connection between all of the elements.”

The new lobby entrances echo that feeling, becoming part of the “aesthetic of this new urban street,” as well. Smith said they also serve to animate the space further, while introducing individual identities for the towers that comprise Gateway. It’s a result of using a “similar vocabulary,” so to speak, to unify the space, but also craft the right vibe.

“As we talked to Onyx … and the other partners about the project, it was all about creating a space that was all about connections,” Smith said. Connecting the retail to the street, connecting the street to the upper-level concourse, and ultimately connecting the commuters and community together in the same space.

“So, basically the barriers, you know, the wall came down. And the barriers were lifted, and now we have a space that really feels that it’s connected to the life of the city and the life of the street, which is really the heart of any city,” Smith said. Refreshed outside spaces – like a new parklet on Raymond Plaza – add to this. “We’re creating places for people to gather both inside and out.”

Within all that open space, Smith said it was important to reinforce the “human scale” of the concourse. There’s a loft area in the entrance to Gateway that offers an intimate experience within the larger, more open area. Even the skybridges are envisioned as activated, albeit smaller, spaces like a street would offer, where you can sit to enjoy your coffee or a conversation. “You’ll find that there are all these little nooks, these little spaces that are surprises, as well, within the larger urban street that we created that are more intimate places to sort of hang out and to spend time with friends,” maybe during your lunch break, while you’re waiting for a train, or on your way to a show at Prudential Center. An upper-level restaurant in The Junction will feature one of those intimate areas, as well: a sort of balcony looking down into the jewel box.

“We had a vision, Gensler painted the picture,” Saraceno said of the $60 million makeover that Gateway received. “The idea was, what’s the most important statement to make. And to us, the most important statement to make was to make Gateway a welcoming place.”

Now literally and figuratively open – restaurant and retail options will continue to debut throughout the space – Gateway “is suddenly part of a larger ecosystem,” Smith said. A thriving, growing ecosystem. He pointed to the housing that’s being developed in the area, and the potential sense of community identity it stands to fortify, and Gateway is part of it, he said. But not in the way the “fort” used to be.

“[T]he street scape is now connected in a very direct way, which is going to make a huge impact,” Smith said. “It already has. But once everything’s fully opened, it’s going to be great.