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Interesting move for Merck

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Merck & Co. appears to be changing course when it comes to marketing one of the many properties it hopes to unload in New Jersey, an industry source told Grapevine.

The 54-acre site, a former manufacturing complex in Union, is believed to have “a lot of environmental challenges,” the source said.

That led the drugmaker to initially offer a longer timeline for selling the property, giving would-be buyers a chance to gauge the scope of any contamination before making a decision.

But Merck recently accelerated that timeline and is looking for buyers who would close quickly, the person said. Such a move shifts “significant risk” to the purchaser when there is possible contamination at stake, and that could cut into the buyer pool.

“I think they're making a mistake,” the source said. “For whatever reason, they're trying to sell it more quickly than they otherwise would, and they're going to try to shift the burden to buyers. I think it's going to hurt them.”

Merck spokeswoman Karen McNamara declined to comment on the details of the selling process.

McNamara, however, noted the site, which once belonged to Schering-Plough, had been slated for closure since a year after Merck acquired the rival drug company in 2009.

The Morris Avenue parcel is a good candidate for mixed-use redevelopment, but the source said the revised terms of the sale have caused some developers to withdraw their interest. It may also prolong the redevelopment process over the long term.

However, the new parameters could still draw companies that specialize in taking on environmental risks: buying properties at a discount, cleaning them up and effectively flipping them to a developer, the source said.

Fresh start for Barchi

The new year brings a new chance for Rutgers President Bob Barchi — who was hailed for his handling of the medical school merger but panned for his seeming disconnect with the athletic department over the firing of men's basketball coach Mike Rice.

One longtime observer of the state and Rutgers said Barchi made some missteps but wonders if there really was a proper path.

“I think Bob Barchi may not have the common touch, but who in fact could manage that situation?” the source said. “Our New Jersey mindset is, we feel wronged and we go for the jugular.”

Our source likes Barchi overall but realizes his shortcomings.

“He's a very talented guy, an incredible intellectual talent, but he doesn't have the emotional intelligence to be able to relate to every kind of nonsensical — and sometimes substantive — complaint that comes in a fairly unmanageable organization,” the insider said.

Barchi came under criticism for his handling of the Rice affair.

Rice was suspended — but initially allowed to keep his job — when videos showing him abusing players surfaced. Barchi did not initally watch the videos.

The insider said it may have been a case of too much, too soon for a man just getting acclimated to his job — and the requirements of it.

“When you're at the head of Rutgers, you're getting it from every direction,” the source said. “He's got to take care of the governor and the state, which gives Rutgers a lot of money; he's got to take care of his donors; he's got to take care of the faculty and the students. And he's new.

“Perhaps you can say he's doing a reasonable job in a job with unreasonable demands.”

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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