Jack's Boathouse has anchored Georgetown’s western waterfront for decades.
But whether it has the right to lease the land as it has for 40 years instead of entering into a competitive concession with the National Park Service (NPS) is the subject of a debate that could land both parties in court.
And the boat rental company says it isn’t going down without a fight.
On Friday, NPS issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for a contract to operate a boat rental operation at 3500 K Street — and it wants Jack’s Boathouse, which has operated a boat rental facility out of a red single-story wooden bungalow on the Georgetown waterfront since 1973, to compete for the contract.
While NPS claims it took stewardship of the parcel in the late 1980s, Jack's Boathouse attorney Charles Camp told Patch the park service has since lost its jurisdiction over the Georgetown waterfront property from which it is trying to evict the boathouse. Camp alleges DC is the landlord, and therefore NPS is not in a position to negotiate a contract for the property.
Longtime patrons of the boathouse might remember when "Jack" Baxter first sold his waterfront property to the District and entered into a lease with the District government in 1973 to operate his boathouse on DC land.
Twelve years later, in 1985, District Council signed a resolution that would transfer a large waterfront parcel encompassing the boathouse to the NPS; in 1987, the city handed over its lease with the facility to NPS.
Baxter's son, Frank, took over the business when Jack died, and when Frank died in 2009, his business parter, Paul Simkin, took over the business.
But NPS says it believes "the lease had never been legally transferred to [Simkin], thus necessitating a competitive process to award a contract."
The park service, led by Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, says since the lease “was donated to the National Park Foundation… the right thing to do is to get this boat rental operation under a competitively-awarded concession contract, just as we do in other parks,”
In December, NPS sent a letter to Simkin saying he had until Jan. 31 to vacate the location where he operates his business.
The NPS gave Jack's a bit of a reprieve a few days later, but now says the rental business can only remain on the waterfront on a month-to-month basis until a new contract is awarded under the RFQ.
The only problem: Camp believes the land has reverted back to the District.
A 1985 District Council Resolution, which Patch has obtained, says if the NPS were to amend any of the deeds for the waterfront area, DC would reclaim it.
Camp says there were at least two deed amendments since 1985, meaning the land should belong to DC and NPS doesn’t have a right to force out his client’s business.
NPS could not be reached Friday to comment on the allegation.
Patch has reviewed two deeds, one dated 2000 and another 2005, that modify previous lease agreements for waterfront lots expressly mentioned in the 1985 Council resolution.
It’s not so much who owns the land as what NPS wants to do with it, Camp says. He told Patch he believes NPS wants to convert Simkin's lease to a concession agreement because it would have far fewer restrictions than a lease and can be terminated in as few as 30 days; the only way to get a tenant to vacate a lease in DC is a court order, Camp says.
NPS still plans to cut off applications for the concession contract Feb. 6 and award a contract by the end of that month.
Simkin says he won’t apply.
"We have no problem competing," Simkin said in an interview with Patch. "We can compete with anybody.”
But "it’s like applying for the right to be where you already have the right to be,” Camp says.
In the meantime, the tight deadline has left Simkin trying to figure out how to plan for a business the NPS RFQ may not be allow to operate.
He said he can't hire a manager for his docks without knowing if he will have a business to run in the spring. And he's losing out on talent because of that uncertainty.
"I’m losing everything now and I don’t know what to do," Simkin says.
“I’m being ruined.”
But there is hope, Camp says.
The DC government has been involved “and now they are really involved. They are 100 percent in favor of my client," he says.
"What the park service is doing with regard to Paul is outrageous,” said Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans in an interview with Patch.
Evans said NPS could easily give Jack's Boathouse a three-year non-compete concessions contract, but it seems to just want "to get rid of him."
He likened it to "Kicking out the mom and pop shop and putting in a 7-Eleven."
Evans told Patch he had handed over Camp's information to DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan. Evans said he has also been in touch with the offices of both Mayor Vincent Gray and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to enlist their support, depending on Nathan's findings.
"Personally, I would like the result to be that the land reverts to the District. It’s the entire Georgetown waterfront,” Evans said.
Evans called NPS "short-sighted," given the public support for Jack's Boathouse in online petitions after the initial eviction letter was made public.
Evans wondered, "Do they know they are about to create a firestorm?”