Jack's Boathouse Lease Put Up for Bid by Park Service
Owner Asks for Community's Help
The National Park Service reviewed its temporary halt to an eviction of Jack's Boathouse and wrote to Jack's on Jan. 18 that it has decided "to issue a new temporary concession contract for non-motorized boat rental and storage devices and to allow you to continue your operations until such time as the contract is awarded, provided that your occupancy comports with National Park Service standards . . ."
The Jan. 18 letter from NPS regional director Stephen Whitesell to Jack's Boathouse owner Paul Simkin rescinds the Park Service's Dec. 18 letter sent to the popular canoe and kayak renting facility on the Potomac River in the shadow of Key Bridge that first brought up the eviction -- and howls of protest in late December from fans of Jack's.
Nevertheless, the latest Park Service action on Jack's makes the removal of the current owner from NPS land appear more likely.
The Park Service wrote in its Jan. 18 letter to Simkin that it "will release a Request for Qualification (RFQ) for non-motorized boat rental and storage devices at or near the location of the present operation. We will evaluate all responsive proposals, including yours should you wish to submit one . . . " The deadline to respond is in two-and-a-half weeks, Feb. 6.
Understandably, Jack's owner is clearly upset about this latest obstacle in his fight to remain on the shores of the Potomac and operate his business, a Georgetown tradition since the 1940s. Simkin has owned and run Jack's since 2008. He has operated under a lease controlled by the Park Service that has not been updated since 1982; the monthly rent remained a little more than $350 for years. Simkin said he has made significant improvements to the property that cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A few weeks ago, Simkin has retained attorney Charles Camp, who wrote to Park Service, citing a detail of September 1985 resolution by the District Council, concerning the transfer of D.C. public land in the area around Jack's: "The National Park Service shall assume responsibility to repair, maintain, and protect all wharves, piers, bulkheads, and similar structures that are located on the transferred land or in the adjacent waters."
Upon reading the Jan. 18 letter from NPS, Simkin issued this statement: "We thought we were doing the right thing. We thought by following the rules, making our customers happy, increasing our customer base . . . approximately 18-fold and creating a special environment that people from all around the world, not just D.C., wanted to be a part of, that we were doing things the right way. Without being too cliche, it's the American way. We somehow failed. I think we've just been too naive. We are being steamrolled into oblivion by the National Park Service, and we still don't know why."
"If this were a simple rent matter, we would have been happy to pay what was asked. We were never asked. In addition, we have now learned that they [the National Park Service] should have been paying, all of these years, for dock maintenance -- something that has cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket."
"If something doesn't change soon in the next few days, we are finished. Jack's will be gone forever. The legal expenses here are killing us, as is the Park Service's failure to respond to us in any meaningful way and leaving us absolutely in the dark. Its willingness to see a D.C. resource turned into a typical corporate entity will prevail. In fairness to my employees, I've had to tell them that the future at Jack's appears bleak. That's 27 persons. This latest message, dated January 18th, from the National Park Service, saying that we are allowed to bid to run our own business that the staff has worked so hard to build is heartbreaking. It should be clear to all that the NPS does not award contracts based on objective criteria. By its own admission, it is almost wholly subjective. We would have no chance of winning because we are obviously (and for no apparent reason) not wanted."
"Out of necessity, we have retained an attorney whose investigation of the area has proved to be enormously insightful. It turns out that the land that Jack's is on is, in fact, owned by the District of Columbia and is neither owned nor controlled by the National Park Service at all. Because of some past bureaucratic mismanagement on the part of the NPS, it has been able to act as if it is the landlord. It has taken our rent money, performed no maintenance tasks and is now acting as if we are the outsiders. It is my understanding from talking to District officials that the city is going to make an enormous push to set right what is a clear wrong."
"I have been too embarrassed to ask the public for help previously. I'm old-school and a bit too small-town, but, frankly, this heavy-handed and hostile takeover by the Park Service is just kicking my butt. For those who love the place, for those who like the place, for those who want Jack's to be a place where they can still go, I need help. Jack's needs community support now. I cannot promise more than continuing to do what we do and working every day to make it better -- and a promise that there is nothing more important to me than the river. Everyone can make a difference. If you haven't yet, please sign the petition at change.org. If you know someone who knows 'someone,' this is the time. We are talking about days, not weeks or months before it is all over."