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FRANKLIN TWP., NJ-MetLife is said to be on the verge of buying the 414,000-sf office building at 300 Davidson Ave. here from Merrill Lynch. According to sources, the vacant building could trade for as much as $50 million, or about $120 per sf.

According to a published report, MetLife is in the due diligence phase, and the deal is expected to close early next year. A MetLife spokesperson declined to comment on the pending acquisition or on what the company might have in mind for the asset. The insurer already has more than 2,000 back office-type employees in the Garden State at multiple locations.

Merrill Lynch, which could not be reached for comment, has been actively trying to sell the building at least since mid-2000, and the asset has been completely empty since 2002 when the company moved its financial service operations/systems division to Hopewell. That move was part of a consolidation of several New Jersey-based operations at the company’s 500-acre campus there.

The four-story 300 Davidson Ave. was built in the mid 1980s and Merrill Lynch has owned it since 1992. The company housed more than 2,000 of its employees on-site at one point.

The sale price might be a little light, but it’s apparently being dictated by a submarket showing a current vacancy rate of almost 40%, according to observers. Indeed, 300 Davidson Ave. is part of a two-building, 860,000-sf, 67-acre office campus that’s entirely vacant. The 445,000-sf companion 290 Davidson Ave. was vacated more than two years ago by AT&T as part of the telecom giant’s cutbacks, a process that has also left its former headquarters campus in Basking Ridge, about 15 miles to the north, vacant.

290 Davidson Ave. is separately owned by the Jericho, NY-based We’re Associates. As reported by GlobeSt.com this past June, the Cranford-based Mack-Cali Realty Corp., as part of a larger strategic real estate transaction involving much of the real estate holdings of AT&T in the Garden State, assumed that company’s lease obligation on the building.

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