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BLUE BELL, PA-Merck Inc. has signed a direct lease for the 219,000 sf it had subleased here from Unisys. Merck’s lease with Corporate Office Properties Trust for the entire property at 785 Jolly Rd. on the Unisys Campus in Blue Bell is effective July 1, 2009. Terms of the lease were not disclosed, and a COPT spokeswoman did not return calls by deadline.

In a statement, Randall Griffin, president and CEO of COPT, calls Merck’s lease “the first significant step towards mitigating any potential rollover exposure due to the Unisys lease maturity in 2009.” During a Q1 earnings call in May, Roger Waesche, EVP and COO of Columbia, MD-based COPT, noted that Unisys has 100% leased three buildings totaling 960,000 sf at the Blue Bell campus; the campus is in fact Unisys’ world headquarters. COPT’s predecessor company, the Shidler Group, acquired the campus from Unisys for $65 million under a sale-leaseback agreement in 1992.

“Our anticipation is that Merck will stay doing a direct lease with COPT going forward and that Unisys will renew some but not all of that space and that we will be in a re-tenanting and redevelopment situation on probably 400,000 sf or 500,000 sf of the 960,000 sf beginning in the summer of 2009,” Waesche said at the time. His comments were made after the December 2007 announcement that Unisys would move its corporate headquarters from Blue Bell to Philadelphia.

Those plans were reportedly jeopardized in August when the Philadelphia Zoning Board rejected Unisys’ plan to put its logo in 16-foot-tall letters at the 38th floor of Two Liberty Pl., where the largest tenant is Cigna. The logo would have taken up 650 sf; city regulations limit such signage to no more than 100 sf and also stipulate that the signs cannot be any higher than two stories above ground. At that time, Unisys was said to be reconsidering its move to Philadelphia, according to published reports.

A Unisys spokesman says his company is “still exploring its options around this issue.” He adds, however, “We have not announced any change in our plans around moving our corporate headquarters–about 225 employees–to Center City Philadelphia in 2009. Under that plan, other operational staff currently in Blue Bell—about 500 additional employees—would stay in a suburban Philadelphia location, possibly in the current Blue Bell location.”

In 2006, COPT had put the 154-acre Unisys campus on the market, but ended up not selling. “If we don’t get the price we want, we’ll keep it,” Clay Hamlin, vice chairman of COPT, told GlobeSt.com in 2006. “We might take a JV partner, or someone may want a piece. There is no land of this developable size available in this market, and it provides the opportunity for development of a really first-class park that is two to three times larger than any other here.” It is zoned for an additional 1.2 million sf of office development.

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