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Jack's Boathouse Fighting Potential Ouster by NPS

Conflicting claims on Georgetown waterfront property put future of boathouse in question.

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?”

David Abrams January 19, 2013 at 01:09 PM
Hurrah for Jack Evans position! NPS is so short-sighted - my experience has been that they really don't care about land or land use. They are bureaucrats in an agency which has no significant funding and they, pardon the pun, can't see the forest for the trees.
Nancy Bulger January 19, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Thank you for alerting readers about this potential travesty. The NPS has no connection with the local community, yet is able to impact our local traditions without regard for them. They should know how the citiizens feel, and we should have a way to let them know our opinions and traditions must be considered. N. Bulger
Rather Be Anonymous January 19, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Love Jack's Boathouse. Nothing else like it. The waterfront if finally great in Georgetown.. it would be a shame to see Jack'_go.
Charlie Eason January 19, 2013 at 06:18 PM
At one time I thought the NPS were the "good guys," Smokey Bear and all that. But now I have my doubts. You simply do not stand by and let somebody invest their life savings in an enterprise which benefits the public just to pull the rug out from under them with 30-day's notice. That isn't to say that a public resource (whether controlled by the NPS or DC) shouldn't be operated for the public benefit, and to the extent that requires competition, fine. But don't put a gun to his head (and those of his employees) by this sort of tactic. If those properly in control of the property want to say they want to reexamine the arrangement down the road, involve the public and community leaders in the discussion of what is best, fine. My guess is that given the NPS position we will have NO boathouse this season as experienced workers scramble for other employment. That is a shame. Whoever authorized this should be tarred and feathered and thrown into the Potomac!
Melissa Reilly January 20, 2013 at 03:48 AM
Jacks is a friendly oasis in this city. NPS has proven it has lost sight of its mission and purpose. Disgraceful.
Bert Helfinstein January 21, 2013 at 12:19 AM
I hope this unnecessary action on the part of NPS is dropped. I feel that the current operators of Jacks have done a splendid job of improving it and operating it. I've been renting kayaks there for many years and it is dramatically better and more attractive than ever before. They should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of the large investment they have made.
e keam January 21, 2013 at 01:13 AM
I love Jack's and I am a regular. I learned to kayak out of Jack's. There is no place like it in the world and definitely not in DC. Sure, up the river and down, there are a few other kayak rental places, but nothing (and I mean NOTHING) like Jack's. The people are friendly, laid back, helpful. It has to be saved. I have lost great respect for the NPS!
Kate Weisiger January 21, 2013 at 04:08 AM
It should be incumbent upon anyone bidding on the contract that they be required to reimburse the current proprietor the documented capital inprovements that he has incurred. To do otherwise is simple theft.
Margaret Rodenberg January 22, 2013 at 12:22 AM
Good for Jack Evans and the DC government. This business should be protected from what seems like flagrant disregard for a small business person's investment and hard work. It makes no sense for the NPS to pursue this. Jack's current management does an outstanding job. You would think there was a person motive behind this action.
Jsycamore January 22, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Don't forget the undue costs NPS has forced Jack's to suffer in legal and operational fees. Paul Simkin, the owner, will be forced to fight this battle in court and if Jack's can't hire staff and prepare for the coming season, Georgetown won't have a boat house this year. Additionally, NPS failed for years to provide any maintenance and/or funding for maintenance for the facility and the waterfront, which the business incurred for years. Now that the space is cleaned up, NPS wants to come in and open up 1200 ft of waterfront, including Jack's property, essentially so that Georgetown University and GW can not-so-secretly build boathouses...that doesn't seem in the interest of the public, does it?
DJ January 27, 2013 at 02:38 PM
(Repost)Here's another issue: If injunctions are issued by both sides either to stop NPS from developing the NMBZ Waterfront or to stop Jack's BH from conducting any further activity, there'll be another historic delay. And even after it's resolved in court, it's unclear which eventual landowner, DC or NPS, would grant the new leasee of Jack's BH (or something Jack's BH-like) the better lease agreement. In fact, should DC/Georgetown reclaim the waterfront, there could be more political pressure by commercial developers to open this 'prime' waterfront real estate to competitive bidding. Ino, it's highly unlikely that Paul Simkin could even secure a preferred status to operate on the lot. Whoever is te new owner, there will still be legal requirement by the landowners to offer business concessions to 'competitive' bidding. Worse, it's even foreseeable that this scenic section of DC could be opened up for significant commercial development under this scenario, including the potential development for luxury waterfront highrises, condos or townhomes at the site.

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