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December 01, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Comeback in the making Comeback in the making (December 01, 2004)

Gas-station operator hopes to reopen in Midtown

by Jocelyn Dong

Since February, Dee Ortiz has been waiting to make a comeback.

The mild-mannered operator of Dee's Midtown ARCO on Middlefield Road lost his livelihood earlier this year when the gas giant decided to close the station and sell the property.

Last week, nine months after the shutdown, Ortiz announced that his return is almost at hand. He's made ARCO an offer to buy the land, and both he and a company representative confirmed the offer has been accepted. The property is reported to be valued at around $1.7 million.

According to Ortiz, the reason ARCO closed the station was because it wasn't selling as much gas as other ARCOs in the area.

News of the closing upset gas-station regulars, who wrote angry letters to local newspapers about the loss to the Midtown area.

Ortiz had been managing the ARCO for 25 years.

Since then, the defunct gas station at 2995 Middlefield has stood silent, with its pumps and auto-repair shop fenced off, and red, white and blue "Official Smog Station" banner still hanging.

Midtown resident Ursula Bujanovich expressed delight at the news.

"It's fantastic," she said. "I have lived in Palo Alto since 1965, and there were many gas stations (before)." Now, she and other former customers have to drive to San Antonio Road, Charleston Road or El Camino Real to fill up their tanks.

She plans to patronize Ortiz's station and auto shop when it opens again.

The re-opening will come none too soon for Ortiz, who commutes from Brisbane. In the interim, he has been selling loans, cleaning the house, and doing some contemplating, he said.

"My savings are running out," said the husband and father of two college-aged children.

In built-out Palo Alto, one might suspect the 0.5-acre land would have been hot property, situated between the Winter Lodge ice-skating rink and Matadero Creek, a stone's throw from Midtown Shopping Center.

Originally, Ortiz was given two months to come up with a deal, a daunting if not impossible task, he said.

"It was like pulling the rug from under me," recalled Ortiz, who tried but was not able to pull together an offer in that time.

A developer reportedly wanted to buy the property, according to Ortiz, but the land is zoned as a gas station and auto-repair shop and also has hazardous-waste issues. The developer's deal apparently fell through, leading to Ortiz's second chance.

For Ortiz's comeback to materialize, he still needs to get an approval from his bank for the loan. The station will not be an ARCO, however, by mutual agreement. Ortiz will contract with another gas distributor.

"There's plenty of gas," he said, adding that a few distributors are "fighting" for his business.

If the loan comes through, he anticipates opening in February -- exactly one year since the station closed. Hopefully customers will recognize him. Since February, Ortiz joked, he's been gaining weight.

Senior Staff Writer Jocelyn Dong can be reached at jdong@paweekly.com.


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