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CHICAGO-UNICARE is staying at Sears Tower through 2014 after signing a renewal on its 150,000 sf at the tallest building in North America. Although terms were not disclosed, published asking net lease rates at the 110-story building at 233 S. Wacker Dr. start at $16 per sf, which would put the value of the renewal in the neighborhood of $26 million.

In addition to keeping the sixth-largest tenant at Sears Tower, Trizec Properties Inc.’s leasing team is holding occupancy at 89%, better than average when compared to the West Loop. US Equities Realty pegs direct vacancy in the largest Downtown submarket at 12.6%; 17.2% when sublease space is added to the equation.

In addition to a soft leasing market throughout Downtown and the suburbs, Trizec Properties SVP Stephen Budorick notes the UNICARE deal was done in the face of new construction, which includes more than 2.7 million sf of office space coming on line next year and 2005 in the West Loop. UNICARE’s options included the Hyatt Center at 71 S. Wacker Dr. and the John Buck Co.’s 111 S. Wacker Dr., buildings where nearly one million sf is available about two years away from completion.

The renewal is the largest deal since MetLife Inc. took over ownership of the 3.5-million-sf Sears Tower when it acquired Trizec Properties’ second mortgage for $9 million. The REIT, which has its headquarters on the 46th floor, took a $15.3-million loss on that investment in the third quarter, but notes that it will be partially offset by $12 million in tax benefits.

Despite opting against converting its second mortgage into an ownership position in Sears Tower, Trizec Properties continues as property manager and leasing agent for MetLife. Director of leasing Nancy Fendley handled negotiations for MetLife, while Jim Ardell and Jim Bannon of Jones Lang LaSalle represented UNICARE.

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