News & Politics

National Park Service Meeting With Jack’s Boathouse Owner In Lease Dispute

Paul Simkin’s Christmas week lease eviction notice is on “hold” for now.

Jack's Boathouse, the popular boat rental facility in Georgetown, on Monday morning in the snow. It faces an uncertain future. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

UPDATE: After the Wednesday afternoon meeting with NPS, Simkin
described the nearly one hour discussion as “not productive.” He said,
“I told them I was trying to find a win-win solution. They said they
were meeting with me only at my request and they had nothing to add or
to say.” Simkin said he would be contacting a lawyer as soon as possible
and would proceed based on legal advice. “It will cost the Park Service
a lot of money if I pursue legal action,” he said.

Original post follows break.

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The National Park Service has scheduled a meeting with Jack’s Boathouse owner Paul Simkin for Wednesday afternoon to try to resolve what Simkin calls the “recent shenanigans” involving his lease at the popular boat rental facility in Georgetown.

Earlier Wednesday, Simkin received an e-mail from Steve Whitesell, the regional director for the NPS, asking him to meet with two subordinates. In the e-mail, Whitesell said he hoped the meeting “will prove constructive,” but he said, “I don’t believe we will be able to provide a definitive answer to a path forward until the New Year.”

Simkin, in a phone interview with Washingtonian, said he would meet at the NPS Hains Point office with Rock Creek superintendent Tara Morrison and Steve LeBel, who is one of Whitesell’s deputies. The final decision about the fate of Jack’s Boathouse will be made by NPS director Jon Jarvis, who is on vacation until January 7, which may explain his putting the whole process on “hold.”

Late last week Simkin received what he called a form letter from NPS, his landlord, informing him of the eviction of the boat rental operation that opened in 1945 practically under Key Bridge. Then on Christmas Eve he learned that the NPS was “putting a temporary hold on the eviction” that would have gone into effect at the end of January.

Simkin, who referred to the NPS actions as their “recent shenanigans,” said Jarvis was reacting to “public response.” As of Monday morning, Simkin said he was told NPS had been “flooded” with messages, as well as more than 1,500 signatures on an online petition protesting the NPS action. Jarvis, in a statement, said he received “hundreds of emails” from concerned citizens.

Simkin said he’s not had a bad relationship with the the Park Service during the seven years he has owned Jack’s, though lease renewal negotiations stalled during the summer. The new lease would have been for three years. “We started meeting in June, and then after a while they just didn’t respond. I seem to be persona non grata and I don’t know why.” He wrote to the Park Service again on Christmas night, a message which prompted the meeting scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

There is no official word on what plans the NPS has for the plot of land that holds Jack’s funky rental office, piles of canoes and kayaks and an expansive and colorful dock where boaters like to grill and chill during the warm weather months. Simkin’s personal theory is that the space could be designated for a “colleagiate rower boathouse. Georgetown University spent a million dollars lobbying the Park Service.” Rachel Pugh, GU’s director of media relations, said “this is not true.”

Simkin says he took over Jack’s after being a customer and befriending and becoming the co-owner with the late Frank Baxter, the son of the original Jack. He says that since he has owned the boathouse outright the customer base has grown substantially—to 72,000 in 2012. Admitting that the current state of affairs makes him feel in a kind of “limbo,” he said his principal concern is for the more than two dozen students and military who work for him in season. “I’m suffering for the employees,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell them.”

The story of the eviction broke last week in The Georgetowner newspaper and gained a lot of traction over the weekend.

We asked Simkin whether he planned to take a lawyer with him to the NPS meeting. “No, but my intention is not to say or sign anything. I don’t want to ruin the possibility to fix something in good faith.” Almost immediately he added, “but hearing myself say that, I’m not sure.”