Housing Complex

Jack’s Boathouse Will Take Park Service to Court

Jack's Boathouse, the popular Georgetown boating establishment facing eviction as early as next month, will file a complaint with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia this week to prevent the National Park Service from moving forward with its process to establish a new concession for the site.

The move comes after the D.C. attorney general's office declined late last week to issue a public opinion on the dispute between Jack's and NPS. The attorney general's office looked into the case after Jack's owner Paul Simkin and his attorney Charles Camp discussed the matter with Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who passed the information along to the A.G.

Further complicating matters for Jack's is a newly surfaced 1987 letter signed by then-mayor Marion Barry and NPS National Capital Region Director Manus J. Fish. The 1985 D.C. Council resolution authorizing the transfer of jurisdiction over the Georgetown waterfront from D.C. to the federal government stipulated that the land would revert to the city in the event of amendments to a related deed. Camp asserted that there had been two amendments, and therefore NPS no longer had jurisdiction over the land. Moreover, he said, NPS had not fulfilled its obligation in the 1985 resolution to maintain all wharves and piers on the transferred land.

But the resolution was also contingent on the "exchange of letters" between the mayor's office and NPS clarifying a few points in the transfer. For a time, no one could find any such letters, and Camp was skeptical of their existence. But late last week, NPS got a hold of the key letter and passed it along to me.

The letter is more specific on the point of amendments than the original resolution, establishing that reversion will occur if the deed "is amended by other than technical or insubstantial amendments." It also clarifies that NPS is responsible for maintaining piers and wharves that are "not the subject of leases located on the transferred land or in the adjacent waters," as Jack's is.

Peter May, NPS' associate regional director for the National Capital Region, believes the letter makes clear that NPS retains jurisdiction over the property. "It's not a blanket call for reversion, that with any amendments it would revert," he says. "It was more specific than that."

May adds, "The exchange of letters also stated that the maintenance of wharves and piers would be the responsibility of the Park Service except for leased properties. There were several leased properties at the time of the transfer, but Jack's is the only one that remains."

But Camp disagrees that the letter simply clarifies the resolution and argues that the two documents are in fact contradictory. "There’s a fundamental inconsistency between the resolution and the letter," Camp says.

Camp also says the wording of the letter doesn't give NPS blanket authority over the property. The letter states, "The District of Columbia shall delegate its duties under existing leases and shall assign the rents derived from existing leases to the National Park Foundation, to be used to the benefit of the Georgetown Waterfront Park."

According to camp, that doesn't allow NPS to evict one tenant and install another. "It’s a limited transfer," he says. "It’s to administer and maintain it. It’s not to kick a tenant out."

As for the question of whether the letter supersedes the 1985 Council resolution, Camp says, "I think that’s a question for the U.S. District Court to decide."

Camp says the complaint to the court will seek "a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages." He's also said that if NPS moves to install a new operator, he and Simkin will sue the operator.

An NPS spokeswoman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • anons

    The level of "whine" that comes out of the mouths of folks like Jacks, (and that farmer guy in Montgomery County who was farming on Public School property for decades) that have been getting over the top ridiculous sweet heart deals on public property is astounding.

    I guess I would whine like a girl too if I was renting prime water front property for $356 a month ($4300 per/year), an amount that has not increased $1 dollar in the past 30 years, yet collect millions of dollars in revenue during the year. Jacks said they had 72,000 customers. Even if each chose the cheapest option on Jacks list for one hour (renting a canoe for a 7-12 year old at $7 dollars an hour), thats half a million a season in revenue.

    Woe is me, you've had a 4 decade sweet heart deal thats allowed you to pocket millions of dollars.

    Just be thankful that you ride the gravy train for as many decades as you did. This is extremely valuable PUBLIC property and the public should be getting a fair fiscal deal out of it.

  • Kurt

    Hey look, an anonymous commenter posting nonsense. Spare me the moaning about the "over the top" deals, "anons." I've paddled there for decades. It was a dump before Simkin took over.

    Let's discuss your facts.

    (1) The current owner has not been there for "decades" but the institution that is Jack's has been. Simkin has only been there for a few years.
    (2) Simkin may have had a "sweet deal" with the rent but would you have gone to your landlord and say "please raise my rent"? Yeah, that's what I thought.
    (3) Simkin just wants a chance to compete fairly. The NPS does not have to choose the highest bidder. Guest Services Inc. -- which just happens to have been founded by former NPS employees -- has been awarded numerous vendor contracts like this one without being the highest bidder. Could be just coincidence, I guess.
    (3) Your math is terrible. I don't know where the 72,000 number of customers comes from but it is not possible for that to be an annual number. Being open from April-October each year gives them about 30 weeks. To have 72K customers a year they would have to have 2400 RENTALS PER WEEK! (and that's if each person only rented once per season). They would have to have 84 rentals per hour, 12 hours/day, 7days/week! And when you factor in that business is very low during the day on weekdays I'd say your numbers are "over the top" ridiculous. Did you give that more than 5 seconds thought? If Jack's put that 72K number out there I'd have to guess it's a rough estimate of the numer who have ever rented there.

    As a regular customer I just want to help insure that Jack's Boathouse lives on and that Simkin has a fair chance to continue to run it. He should not be kicked out for a well-connected company or for a rich university (Georgetown) that wants a boathouse for their crew team. The place looks much better since Simkin took over.

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  • anons

    Kurt,

    It is clear you aren't remotely familiar with the situation and intend on embarrasing yourself.

    "Since then, business has expanded in size to serve 72,000 customers—up from 4,000 a few years ago"

    Google "jacks boathouse 4000" and you will see links to WMAU, Georgetown Voice, WaPo and yes, Jacks own Facebook page. So you if you issues with the number (which yes, is "per year", I suggest you take it up with Simkin.

    Would I go to my landlord and ask them to raise my rent? No, but then I wouldn't whine like a child when they did for the first time in THREE DECADES. I would count my luck stars someone wasn't paying attention, and realize the gravy train was nice, but it is public property and that market rent rates are fair.

    The current lease is month to month and has been unchanged for ~35 years. It is a waste of public property and a public resource to let some guy make what is obviously millions a year while paying a few hundred a month in rent.

    Yes, the contract should go to the highest bidder. I don't care who it is, but it should go to the highest bidder, plain and simple. If Simkin wants to make that high bid, great. If not, too bad.

    Oh, and lastly, you say it was a dump before he took over. It still is a dump, so I don't know what your point is.

  • CDCWDC

    Posted on January 25, 2013:
    “While Jack’s Boat House has a long history, this guy is a JOKE. Simkin is trying to manipulate the system and prevent the Park Service from offer the concession for competitive bid as required by law. He does have a right and is not being prevented from submitting a proposal in the competitive process. I am disappointed that our Congresswoman and Councilmember Jack Evans would even attempt to intervene in the process without knowing all the facts of at least seeking a better understanding. SIMKIN was charged with Unauthorized Disposal of Solid Waste and completed a diversion program on January 16, 2013; result in the case being Nolle, according to DC Superior Court records.

    My only concern is that this guy has raised the issue of a rider in the transfer deed that raises a question of ownership of the property by US Park Service or the District Government. The AG should determine the status and issue a ruling so the bidding process can move forward without delay. This will allow the Boat House to open on time for the upcoming season and end this nightmare.”

    Now that we have copies of the additional documents that clarify the details and confirm that the land does not revert back to the District for technical amendments, it is time to get on with the process.
    DC AG has declined to issue an opinion on the ownership of the land.

    While the contract should go to the highest bidder, there are circumstances that permit a lower bidder to be awarded the contract, such as proven ability of running the type of contract with a history of compliance. I too don't care who it is, but it should go to the bidder, that exercises some integrity.

    I understand that Simkin is fighting for his cash cow and wants to hold onto the contract by any means necessary.
    This case will end up in court and be resolved in US District Court. But for now let NPS move forward and solict bids, so the new concession can open in time for the upcoming season. Simkin and NPS can battle it out in court for the next few years if he desires.

    And I will say this again Mr. Simkin has the right to submit a bid and NPS has not indicated that they are not will to evaluate a bid from him. This is the way the Federal contracting process works; no one gets to take advantage of tax payers with a non competitive concession forever.

  • Charles Camp

    CDCWDC, If only you knew the facts or the law. Who are you anyway? The Complaint will be filed tomorrow.

  • Arron

    Hey Charles!

    I suppose the article explains why you are in disagreement with CDCWDC's comment, but uh, who are you anyway?

    I suppose the article also explains who you are, so, maybe you can elaborate a little on this employee who was fired..

  • Arron

    Furthermore,

    If, as Simkin suggests in the article "You Don't Know Jack's", this employee was fired and then went to the Park Service, why not also go after him for "intentionally conspiring with the NPS to interfere with and destroy Jack's"?

    I mean, it's just a thought.

  • Arron

    When your client told that employee, "I'm going to fuck you over so bad!", maybe Simkin was making a poor attempt at threatening the boy, and was not in fact planning on pursuing legal actions against him..?

    ...just another thought.

    Either way, I'm sure the kid feels giddy with anxiousness! And, either way you look at it, I'm sure this was just a manifestation of Simkin intentionally conspiring with his own inner demons to interfere with and destroy the employee's pursuit of justice.

  • Arron

    Whatever happens, surely it can't be as bad as the time Simkin pulled a flare gun on that employee while they were in the trailer-office. Maybe you've seen it- the one he keeps atop the door sill.

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