Gas station owner stuck in neutral Fears Ratner buyout off the table

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John Tsao may be out of gas.

The owner of a Flatbush Avenue Mobil station within the footprint of Bruce Ratner’s proposed Atlantic Yards project says the developer is having second thoughts about a generous offer made this fall to buy out Tsao for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The deal was put on the table after Ratner bought the land on which Tsao’s eight gas pumps and mini-mart stand. Tsao subleased the land from ExxonMobil.

After the sale, Ratner vice-president Andy Zlotnick stopped by unannounced and offered the buyout, even though Tsao does not have any rights over the land.

At the time, Tsao, a popular figure who calls his customers by their first name, had no desire to leave the neighborhood. He also was uncertain whether Ratner would ever build his sports, residential and commercial Xanadu anyway. But he took the vice president’s business card anyway.

Tsao is wishing he had taken the money and run.

For the past few months, Tsao has kept his cellphone close to his side in anticipation of a ring from either the corporation who sold him his business — ExxonMobil — or the one who has the power to take it away — Forest City Ratner, which plans to raze the gas station.

ExxonMobil never reached out to Tsao about losing his property. He could relocate his franchise, but the company offers no help.

“ExxonMobil does not have a specific program designed to provide assistance to franchise owners when, as in this instance, the property underlying their service station may be sold by a third party,” said spokeswoman Betsey Eaton.

Tsao says that his phone calls to the company’s headquarters go unanswered.

“But this is the industry standard,” said Tsao. “A gas station dealer or owner is the bottom step. If the company makes a cough, it’s an earthquake to us. “

When Tsao realized that Ratner’s deal might be the only one he would be seeing, he picked up Zlotnick’s card.

He didn’t get a call back — until The Brooklyn Papers called Forest City Ratner to find out whether the deal was still on the table.

“Honestly, I am not confident at all [that the deal is in place],” Tsao said. “I know they bought the building to the left of us and to the right of us. But if they already purchased the property, then they have another way to get me out.”

Even if the sale goes through, he is not sure if he will have the capital to establish a new station.

“Financially, it will be a problem. When you buy something 30 years ago and they find out you have to leave in a matter of 12 months, it’s not easy to get things together,” he said.

Tsao blames Mobile’s 1999 merger with Exxon for making him even smaller in the eyes of the massive corporation. The company is so vast he doesn’t know who exactly could help him, he says.

“I lost a good 90 percent of my old contacts,” he said. “Nowadays, everything is set up with a number system. It is not easy to file your concerns.” .

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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