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Telephone company fills Nielsen void

The footprints Nielsen Media Research left when it combined three smaller offices into one really big one are now starting to be filled in.

Nielsen began moving more than 1,600 employees from Dunedin and other locations throughout North Pinellas into a new $80-million headquarters in Oldsmar last fall.

Now, Talk America, a Virginia local and long-distance telephone company, has moved 200 employees into Nielsen's former engineering and advanced technology facility at Tampa Road and Alt. U.S. 19.

And a deal is close on one of the other facilities, an associate marketing that property said.

But Talk America spokesman Frank O'Hanlan said the move into the 25,000-square-foot converted grocery store along Alt. 19 is only temporary. The company signed a one-year lease that runs through November 2004. Terms were not announced.

O'Hanlan said the company is building a 40,000-square-foot building in Pasco County and also is working on creating more parking at its other Pinellas location near Alderman Road along Alt. 19. When those projects are finished, O'Hanlan said the company plans to leave the former Nielsen building.

"If we need to negotiate a few extra months if our construction is delayed, we will do that," O'Hanlan said. "But the Tampa Road building is a temporary facility."

Talk America once employed 1,200 customer service workers at its Alderman Road facility but the lack of parking forced the company to explore other options, including expanding into Pasco County and the former Nielsen property.

The Alderman building at 2704 Alt. 19 N has 178 parking spaces. To accommodate extra workers, the company had to hire shuttles to ferry employees to and from off-site parking.

That cost as much as $500,000 a year, O'Hanlan said. Worse, it hurt morale, he said.

"It makes it a lot tougher for some people to work here," O'Hanlan said. "It became a game of attrition."

So Talk America and county economic developers began working toward a deal last year that would allow the company to build a three-story parking garage over a portion of a retention pond next to the Talk America facility, O'Hanlan said.

When it's completed sometime in early 2005, O'Hanlan said, Talk America would gain 500 additional parking spaces, for a total of 678.

Until then, the company will work out of the Nielsen property, which is now being subleased from Food Lion. Its lease runs through July 2009.

"Whenever Food Lion moves a store from a leased facility, we always seek subleasing opportunities," said Jeff Lowrance, a Food Lion spokesman in North Carolina. "We do so with great focus and determination. An empty store space benefits no one, Food Lion or the community."

Meanwhile, an imminent deal that would have brought a modest retail chain to an open 8,820 square feet of space next to Talk America's new location is now in flux, said Art Brooks, who works with Tangent Management Co., the shopping center's leasing managers.

A Dollar General store is still interested in moving into the site, but the property owners want to explore other, more upscale opportunities, Brooks said.

"We've got some other deals in the works," he said.

"While Dollar General is a good tenant, they're not known for paying high rents. We've got some other people we're talking to."

Associates marketing the other two Nielsen properties say deals are progressing as well.

In Clearwater, Highwoods Properties is talking with several professional firms for a large portion of a 34,500-square-foot office site at the Bay Vista Office Park that Nielsen left last September, a representative from that firm said.

Karen Myers, an associate with Highwoods, said "there are prospects" interested in the property at 5500 Rio Vista Drive.

"But until we get something signed, it's not done," Myers said.

And in Palm Harbor, the associate marketing 63,548 square feet of former Nielsen space in the Highland Commons office complex, said he has two deals pending that would fill about a quarter of the building.

Colliers Arnold senior associate Alan Feldshue said two businesses could be in the building on U.S. 19 N by mid spring.

The sides are currently negotiating multiyear leases.

"The activity is encouraging," Feldshue said. "It just takes time to get the deals done."

Meanwhile, Nielsen has hired the real estate firm of Cushman & Wakefield to market a fourth facility, its large operations center on Patricia Avenue in Dunedin, which is expected to be vacant by late 2004 or early 2005.

_ Aaron Sharockman can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or asharockmansptimes.com.

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