The new entrance to Gateway Center in Newark, which celebrated its official opening Thursday evening, doesn’t just look and feel bigger thanks to its glass-walled and ceiling jewel-box entrance. It is bigger.
“There was really no retail presence,” Onyx co-founder and Managing Principal John Saraceno Jr. told NJBIZ May 19 during a tour of the new space ahead of its debut that evening. “And again, because it was recessed, there was nothing that set proud to the sidewalk [or] the street.” But that was before the transformation of the two-story 100,000-square-foot retail and dining space into The Junction that will now welcome visitors, tenants, commuters and Newarkers to Gateway Center, directly across from Newark Penn Station along Raymond Plaza West.
The old entrance didn’t really allow you to see anything, with an overhang that covered that recessed space, adding to the intimidating and fortress-like presence the complex used to exude. That area was absorbed by The Junction – literally brought inside – while the roof of the two-floor atrium is higher than it used to be, as well. The impact can’t be understated: even on an overcast day, the space feels open.
“The Jewel Box is a state-of-the-art entrance to the Gateway Center, one of our city’s signature complexes,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said during the celebration for the space, attended by other elected officials and civic leaders from the city. “Adjoined with The Junction that opens later this year, it will showcase our excellence, hospitality, and diverse array of food to Newark residents, workforce, and visitors.
“We are thankful to Onyx Equities for transforming such an important center in the heart of our downtown,” he added.
Onyx acquired Gateway One, Two and Four in 2018 – Gateway Three is owned by Rugby Realty Co. – and set out to change the perception of the storied 2.3 million-square-foot Newark complex with a $50 million capital improvement effort.
“We are opening The Jewel Box at a really exciting time when people are coming back to the office,” said Onyx Equities co-founder and Principal Jonathan Schultz. “This was not just about improving the pedestrian and employee experience within the complex; it is part of a larger overall reinterpretation of what Newark can be for businesses and residents looking for a thriving urban community.”
Gensler served as architect for the project.
“Our design intent was to activate the streetscape and create a welcoming connection to the community. Designed in the 1970s, Gateway was deliberately inward-facing with little connection to the life of the city, but Onyx’s new vision re-engages the community,” said Design Director Roger Smith. “With street level local retailers, a landscaped public plaza and the two-story entrance hall across from Newark Penn Station, Gateway will become Newark’s new front door.”
As Baraka alluded to in his remarks, the wait will be a little longer for The Junction’s retail and dining spots to open. But, it’ll be worth it. Saraceno said he anticipates the eclectic mix – which includes eateries like Mökbar, from celebrity chef Esther Choi, and Serafina—both New York-based concepts that will make their New Jersey debuts at The Junction – will start welcoming guests toward the end of the summer.
Also joining the roster is a yet-to-be-revealed Newark-based restaurant – the lease was signed this week – that will set up shop at The Junction. Onyx hosted a competition to fill the space with a local tenant, who will pay rent but not bear the burden of the cost for fit out and design. The response, aided through a relationship with Invest Newark, was overwhelming, perhaps indicating that the city is ready for Gateway to open itself up, as well.
“It really didn’t give you a sense of space or place,” Saraceno said of the previous entryway to the four-building complex that is connected with a series of pedestrian bridges leading to Newark Penn Station, the Doubletree by Hilton, One Riverfront Center, Panasonic’s corporate headquarters, and several under-construction residential developments. And both of those things are important for what Onyx has tried to accomplish at Gateway: essentially, break down its barriers. Bringing the local restaurateur into Gateway is part of that effort to bring the outside in; inviting local traffic and commerce to the formerly forbidding complex. The pièce de résistance though – bringing the inside out – is the jewel box, creating a pride point not just for Onyx and its efforts over the past several years, but for the city, as well; a city that is full of pride.
“I mean, there are more community people who bleed this place than any place I’ve ever done business in,” Scaraceno said. “[T]here are people who really, really care … and they’re not quiet and they let you know how they feel and they advocate their all for it. So it’s great,” he said. And, it’s infectious.
“[W]hen you sort of get here for a little while you start to feel it yourself. And then it’s like, OK, you know what? This is bigger than Gateway. It’s bigger than me. And it sort of gives you a sense of pride when you’re done. And you did that, you know, there are a lot of people that are going to enjoy what we did here. So that’s a good thing.”
Upon completion, Onyx expects Gateway Center to welcome more than 75,000 visitors each day.