Housing Complex

Jack’s Boathouse Owner: Park Service Doesn’t Own Land Where It’s Terminating Lease

The National Park Service is moving quickly to award a new contract for the waterfront space currently occupied by Jack's Boathouse. But Jack's owner Paul Simkin and his attorney think they may have discovered something that could put the process on hold: They assert that the property no longer belongs to NPS.

The 1985 D.C. Council resolution that transferred a chunk of Georgetown waterfront property, including Jack's, to NPS stipulates that the land shall revert to the city in the case of "Amendment or cancellation of the January 7, 1985, deed between Washington Harbour Associates, Georgetown Potomac Company, Mount Clare Properties (D.C.) Inc., and the United States of America." There appear to have been two amendments to the deed: one on April 5, 2000, and one on March 1, 2005. Simkin's attorney, Charles Camp, interprets this to mean that as of the time of the amendments, the property reverted back to the city—implying that NPS no longer has control over the area and can't issue a new concession, which it's trying to do by the end of February.

Simkin and Camp brought up the issue with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who today passed the documents along to D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan and asked him to review the matter. Evans says he can't pass legal judgment on the issue, but he encouraged Camp to file for a temporary restraining order to stop the concession process while the case is under review.

Evans also says he contacted Mayor Vince Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton about the matter.

"She has jurisdiction over the Department of the Interior," Evans says of Norton. "One of the recommendations I made of her is that she call [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar and find out what’s going on here. Don’t they have something better to do than terminate Jack’s lease?"

The offices of the mayor, the attorney general, NPS, and Norton did not immediately respond to calls and emails—it's late on the Friday before a three-day weekend.

The 1985 resolution also stipulated that NPS "shall assume responsibility to repair, maintain, and protect all wharves, piers, bulkheads, and similar structures that are located onthe transferred land or in the adjacent waters." On Jan. 14, Camp sent a letter to Stephen E. Whitesell, NPS' regional director for the National Capital Region, and Neil J. Mulholland, president of the National Park Foundation, informing them of this clause and saying, "Mr. Simkin is shocked and disappointed to have only recently learned from me that he unnecessarily expended hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing, maintaining and protecting the wharves, piers, bulkheads and similar structures that were, and for decades have been, the responsibility of the National Park Service."

Camp says he asked NPS concession specialist Steve LeBel if he was aware of NPS' responsibility to maintain the facilities, and that LeBel "had no idea." Camp also says he met with NPS representatives today, and that they told him they expected Simkin to leave the property. Camp says he replied, "You can write it down: He’s not going to leave without a court order."

Simkin and Camp hope that the city's involvement can at least put the brakes on NPS' concession drive until the legal issues are settled. Simkin believes city officials are on his side.

"The attorney folks for the city are very, very interested in getting the land back for the city," he says, "and I've been advised by the city to file actions against the Park Service very quickly."

In the absence of city action, Simkin is not hopeful that NPS will award him the contract for the space Jack's has occupied since 1973.

"We're being asked to bid on our own business," he says. "The National Park Service, it's not a numbers deal with them. It's a subjective deal with them. We're never going to win it. They'll throw us out. This is a very hostile sort of takeover."

Evans says NPS has sent mixed messages about its intentions with regard to the concession process. "When I talked to the Park Service back in December, they agreed to kind of stand down," he says. "And today, without any notice to anybody, they decideed to go ahead with the competition."

If the attorney general rules that the land has in fact reverted to the city, that would have implications far beyond Jack's, says Evans.

That ruling would transfer "the whole Georgetown waterfront, not just Jack’s Boathouse," Evans says. "There are positives and negatives to it, the negative being if we get it back, we have to pay to maintain it."

But he adds that fiscally, "We’re in a much better position than we were in 1985 when this was done."

Evans thinks the 1985 Council resolution was born of concern that the waterfront could face development, which neighbors opposed. "I think it has completely to do with Marion Barry," says Evans of the then-mayor. "He was perceived as trying to develop that waterfront along the lines of Washington Harbour. I think there was a sentiment back then that if we get this to the Park Service, it’ll never get developed."

Now, he wonders if NPS is ready for the onslaught of public opposition it could be facing, regardless of the attorney general's interpretation of the resolution.

"i want the Park Service to come to its senses," Evans says. "I gotta wonder, whoever’s in charge there, do they know they’re walking into a firestorm?"

  • Andrew

    I sure hope that no matter what, the boathouse goes to a new operator. Jack's are in it for themselves and a small group of regulars, and they have shown they'll risk boaters' safety just to save some time or money. We need a public boathouse that is eager to serve the public.

  • Citizen

    Does Jack Evans seriously think Ken Salazar will call Holmes Norton back? That's a laugh. Holmes Norton is a bad joke.

  • Drez

    Good for Jacks. Good for DC!

  • http://charlesfreeman6332@gmail.com Charles

    I believe the Park Service opposition to their present tenant is not related to money because all they have to do is provide a long term lease with a rent increase; http://www.strategic-management-advocacy.com

  • Kurt

    Andrew wrote: "they have shown they'll risk boaters' safety just to save some time or money"

    That's a serious charge -- easy to make anonymously online -- but you provide no evidence or even an anecdotal story to back it up. I've never seen anything like that at Jack's so I'll give your charge the consideration that it's due, Andrew.

    None.

  • Neil Paz-Cruzat

    I'm listing my name, Neil Paz-Cruzat, in case any follow up is needed. I agree with Kurt regarding Andrew's assertions. I have personally rented kayaks from Jack's Boathouse three times this past summer/fall and had nothing but welcome service and assistance with getting in and out of the watercraft AFTER I was issued my life jacket with attached safety whistle. This operator (Jack's) has a stellar reputation in my mind and I would very much like to keep being a customer. Thanks.

  • Sally

    Evans is a bama.

  • andrew s

    I know that Jack's is a beloved local business, but we need to acknowledge the absurdity of the fact that he was running a for-profit business on NPS land that he was basically renting for free, and which was being maintained on the Park Service's dime.

    If Jack's was operating on DC-owned land under those circumstances, we'd be (justifiably) suspecting some sort of corruption.

  • Colleen

    Andrew,

    I'm certainly not opposed to Jack's paying a fair rent. But because of their situation, any rent increase should be gradual and should be fair. Jack's shouldn't object to a reasonable adjustment in their lease, but there's no reason to evict them without a negotiation.

  • Greg

    Andrew,

    The article notes that Simkin was maintaining the piers, wharves, and other structures that were NPS's responsibility and doing so on his own dime. So saying he was operating on the Park Service's dime would be completely at odds with the article itself. Yes he might have been on the land free of rent but paying the maintenance bill on waterfront property is certainly a viable "service in lieu" sort of rent payment and hardly free of cost.

    I think, not know think, that an argument at equity could easily see Jack's as having paid rent in advance in a rather significant amount which NPS would either have to pay back or count against future rent over the course of any contract issued in the future even leaving aside the issue of land ownership.

...