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(This story, in slightly different form, originally appeared in Incisive Media’s Daily Business Review.)

BOCA RATON, FL-After many months of stagnant leasing activity locally, a number of large companies are exploring potential office deals that brokers hope is a sign a rebound is in the making.

“For the last seven to eight months, nobody wanted to make commitments,” says Neil Merin of Merin Hunter Codman. “Now, they are having to make decisions, so we are seeing an uptick in activity, and we are hopeful that will result in an increase of leases” being signed in the next few months.

Boca Raton, home to about half of Palm Beach County’s office space, is considered a bellwether market but has been hit hard by the recession. During any given time, as much as 30% of leases are set to expire.

As the recession grinds on, many companies have asked landlords for lease extensions while they assess their needs. Now, extensions are expiring and companies are being forced to act. Some are taking advantage of declining lease rates to expand; others are downsizing because of staff cutbacks and reduced business.

One company weighing a relocation is ADT Security, an affiliate of Tyco. ADT leases about 32,000 square feet at 1155 Broken Sound Parkway. ADT is considering leasing a similar amount of square footage in the former Washington Mutual building on Yamato Road.

Washington Mutual was the only tenant in the two-building, 175,000-square-foot complex for several years. Washington Mutual, which was seized by U.S. regulators last September and sold to JPMorgan Chase in the biggest U.S. bank failure in history, recently shut down the branch in that building, leaving 105,000 square feet vacant.

Ann Lindstrom, ADT’s director of communications, says the company is considering the Yamato building because it has more parking spaces. Amy Hymes, the senior real estate director at ADT, says its lease at Broken Sound Parkway has expired and ADT is now on a month-to-month lease until a decision is made.

OpenPeak, a communications technology company, is expanding and signed a five-year lease last week to occupy 49,000 square feet in a building known as the Eclipysis on ClintMoore Road in Boca’s Arvida Park of Commerce, according to brokers who asked not to be named. Boca Raton-based OpenPeak is currently housed in the Plaza, an 11-story building on Town Center Road. The company will not occupy the entire Eclipysis building for now but has agreed to increase its space in phases over a period of five years, the brokers said.

LexisNexis, an online data and information company, has also studied its lease options in Boca. Several brokers said the company, which now leases about 87,000 square feet in the Arvida Park of Commerce, was considering relocating and was seeking 100,000 square feet elsewhere in the city.

Robert Listokin, a Colliers Abood Wood-Fay broker who represents the landlord of the nearby One Park Place building, says he received a call from a broker representing LexisNexis asking about freeing up three or four floors.

“They were out in the market looking for more than 100,000, I think 140,000 [square feet],” Listokin says. “They wanted something for 18 months down the road, so I told them there was a potential we could free up the three or four floors in that time frame, but then I never heard anything else on it.”

LexisNexis’ lease expires in about 18 months. Two brokers who asked not to be identified said the company has decided to remain in its current location.

Listokin says he also is in talks with another company that is expanding and has a lease in Boca Raton expiring in about a year. The company, which he declined to identify, wants about 30,000 to 35,000 square feet of space.

“There are some companies that are still doing well,” he says. “And conversely, you have companies that are downsizing and want to relocate from a 50,000 square foot office to 30,000 square feet.”

Ernst & Young, the giant accounting firm, is looking to relocate from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton. Sources said E&Y has been shopping for 20,000 to 25,000 square feet in Boca Raton. The firm currently leases space at 100 NE Third Ave., in Fort Lauderdale.

Listokin says many companies are also just fishing to see if they can get better deals since they know it’s a tenants’ market. “I call those the tire kickers,” he says. “They are tenants who signed leases three or five years ago at much higher rates and now they are going out to the market to see what kind of deals they get, then they are using that to renegotiate their leases.”

Boca Raton’s economy revolves around the numerous high-profile companies with outposts there. With more than 11 million square feet of office space, Boca has seen its vacancy rate climb to about 26 percent, according to the first-quarter office report by CB Richard Ellis.

(Terry Sheridan contributed to this story.)

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