The “Junction” at Gateway: Where Newark Gathers?

By Lawrence Krayn

The Gateway Complex: a post-modern maze of fancy, glass-adorned office buildings, connected by a mismatched network of tunnel-like walkways in the sky above McCarter highway and Raymond Plaza; a fortified haven for petrified late 20th-century commuters, the bane of the central business district’s interconnectivity, and the killer of a large swath of downtown.

The Gateway Complex was constructed in the 1970s and, leaving out some complex details unnecessary for this piece, was the result of a collaboration between a few antiquated railroad entities, Prudential Financial, and the City of Newark. They meant to reassure wary high-end attorneys and other business people that Newark was still a safe place to work. For decades, commuters, New Jersey Devils fans, and locals alike traversed this mall in the sky. In the cold months, it was a welcome reprieve on a walk from downtown to Ironbound attractions. It buzzed throughout the day, and yet was quiet enough to grab lunch or a coffee, or even to visit the mildly upscale bar attached to the Hilton Hotel. If nothing else, it was one of a few routes one could take into Newark Penn Station, to catch trains to New York, the Jersey Shore, Trenton, D.C., Boston, or Miami. 

While many Newarkers had a quiet appreciation for the space as it was, most understood that the glorified fort on the east side of downtown had created an absolute vacuum on the ground. Long had there been discussions of the potential for the office building lobbies to be opened to the walled-off city sidewalks, the aesthetics and amenities inside to be improved, and to increase public points of entry, helping the space to be more intertwined with the rest of downtown and making it a social and developmental asset rather than a relic of White-flight and urban fear. Therefore, the news was welcome, in 2019, that three of the four Gateway buildings had been purchased by “Onyx Equities,” with investment from Prudential Financial and plans to revitalize the aging complex. 

The idea sold to the city was that Gateway would be “redevelop[ed]…to support all of the functions it should be serving for the thousands of people who walk through [it] daily.” It was also added that this “corridor for commuters” would instead become “a place to begin one’s journey into Newark’s cultural mecca.” Those were the words of John Saraceno, managing principal of Onyx. 

For the next few years, residents and stakeholders followed the leasing activity, renderings, and renovations at Gateway. This was especially true as the city emerged from the devastating effects of COVID-19, which resulted in the closing of the walkways to the public for several years. Residents were eager to see Saraceno’s words from 2019 come to fruition: “Our common areas are the front door to Newark’s Downtown district and our renovation plans respond not only to the style of facility that compels today’s tenants but to the opportunity to welcome Penn Station arrivals who will enter Newark through our Concourse.”

In May of 2022 the beautiful “Jewel Box” entrance, at Gateway 1, connecting Gateway to Market Street, opened. Mayor Ras Baraka was in attendance. He and other dignitaries celebrated the opening as a new beginning for the space as more of a public amenity. It should be noted that the space itself is clean, secure, and aesthetically pleasing. Onyx has put forth an excellent effort and is bringing in a slew of commercial tenants.

However, since its grand opening Junction has fallen flat. Most troubling, its most sacred promises to the people of the City of Newark have, thus far, rung hollow. An extension of the New Jersey Transit Police Department’s disgraceful policy of closing Penn Station’s main lobby and bathrooms to travelers past a certain time of night, Junction, including the public walkways, closes at 7PM Monday through Friday and is closed on the weekends. Just as residents and visitors to our city are made to feel undesirable and unwelcome late at Penn, with NJTransit cops bellowing at them to exit through the back door, Junction is manned by noticeably armed guards at each of its main entrances and is gated closed outside of these limited hours. While the guards at Junction have been pleasant, courteous, and friendly, and while a security presence inside the complex is certainly welcome given some of the issues in and around Penn Station, it is understandable that many members of our community may not feel as comfortable entering the complex, and it must be wondered if that is by design. As a large, middle-aged, White male in a suit, even I feel on edge as I approach the door, expecting questions about where I am headed, even though they have, to this point, not come. 

What must be addressed is whether the walkways connecting the Gateway buildings to each other and to Penn Station are public spaces. A covenant dated November 1970, specifically states, under Section 4, that: “The parties hereto agree that the pedestrian walkway or bridge, including that portion within the interior of the railroad station building, shall be open and available at all times to pedestrian traffic except at such times as may be necessary for the maintenance or repair of same, provided, however, that nothing in this agreement shall prohibit UNITED and/or PENN CENTRAL from closing the railroad station or any portion thereof, including the portion on which the walkway is located, to the extent required, permitted or provided by law or by any order or regulation of, or by any contract with, any public body or agency having jurisdiction” (emphasis added). This section of the covenant appears to specifically mandate that the walkways be open to the public at all times, save for when repairs are necessary or when the limited portion connected to Penn Station needs to be closed by a government agency as part of the closing of Penn Station itself. 

This would make sense, since a fair reading of the covenant appears to have conveyed the air space upon which the walkway was constructed to the city itself, rendering the walkways essentially no different than a public sidewalk: “GATEWAY does further dedicate to CITY so much of its lands as are particularly described in schedule B attached hereto for the construction thereon by CITY of certain public improvements to be undertaken by CITY under a certain financial agreement between GATEWAY and CITY, dated March 19, 1969 and supplemental agreements thereto, reserving unto GATEWAY and its successors and assigns as owners, tenants or occupants of its lands as well as their, and each of their invitees and licensees, the right to use the same (in common with the public so long as any public rights therein shall exist), and CITY does herby accept said dedication.” (emphasis added). The original covenant indicates not only that the walkways belong to the city, but that the city paid to have the walkways constructed, and that said walkways belong to the public. 

The sale of the Gateway buildings to Onyx certainly placed those individual buildings under the purview of the joint-venture. However, if the sale did not also include the procurement of the city-owned walkways from Newark to Onyx, the closing of said walkways may simply not be lawful. Absent some other license or agreement between Newark and Onyx, these walkways must be open and available to the public at all times. There remains the open question of whether ingress/egress to the walkways could be limited by Onyx’s lawful interest and control over the portions of said walkway that pass through their buildings, but the issue need not get that far. 

Newarkers are hoping to see Junction realize its potential. Residents want a space integrated with the surrounding community. Travelers and commuters want to be able to pass seamlessly through Penn Station Newark and into the Gateway complex with dignity, at a time of their choosing, and be able to arrange a night cap with their colleagues at a café or bar that is open late inside the complex. Newarkers expect the city to have their backs in this regard, and Onyx is in a unique position to be able to deliver on its promises. A security presence is both necessary and welcome, but perhaps the guards should be completely dispersed throughout the space rather than stationed in bunches at the points of entry. Retail and commercial entities that do not wish to keep late or weekend hours can shutter their establishments when not doing business, but leave the walkway open 24/7 like the public sidewalk that it is, and invite businesses who wish to more comprehensively serve the community to remain open late and on weekends. The individual office buildings already have their own security checkpoints, and commuters should certainly feel safe coming and going to work, but that in no way necessitates the exclusion of the average Newarker from using the rest of the space together with them. Nefarious loitering need not be tolerated, but that should not prohibit local people from enjoying coffee and reading on a Saturday morning in one of the public lounge areas. 

Too often Newark has been sold a bill of goods. Too often have the people of Newark been relegated to second-class spaces. Too often have the best of amenities in this city been limited. Junction is still in its infancy, and has plenty of room to expand and grow as new tenants open their doors, and as the evolution of the space and business model continues. There are plenty of ways for Junction to continue to improve on the beautiful space they have reinvigorated. Onyx can deliver on their promises to the people. But, if none of these very feasible fixes are realized, if no one speaks up for the preservation of the public spaces, and if business continues as usual, the only thing that will have been “gathered” at junction, is another corporate taking of collective resources.

Lawrence Krayn Jr. is a Newark resident and lifelong New Jerseyan. He graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a B.A. degree in Political Science and received his J.D. at Rutgers Law School-Newark. A practicing attorney by day, Larry spends much of his spare time engaging in creative projects. He sees Newark as a vibrant hub for the arts, and is an avid fan of various local creators. He has been a musician for many years under the moniker “IL Lusciato”, and hosts a weekly live podcast on current events, entitled “The Logic and Larry Podcast”. Whether fiction or non-fiction, his writing is heavily influenced by his immediate surroundings and his own life experiences.

Featured photo by Lawrence Krayn