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First, Jack’s Boathouse was closing, then it wasn’t—-maybe. After speaking with Jack’s owner Paul Simkin and a National Park Service spokesman, I can say that NPS’ intentions are about as clear as the waters of the Potomac.
Simkin says he had three rounds of correspondence with NPS: the initial termination of his lease; an NPS statement following public outcry that a boathouse would remain and Simkin was welcome to bid on the concession; and word from NPS Director Jon Jarvis that “everything was put on hold … until he’s had time to review.”
That last bit of information seems to be the pertinent one. According to NPS spokesman David Barna, Jarvis has “just put a hold on everything until he gets back [from vacation] in a week or so.”
Simkin worries that the language of NPS’ reversal doesn’t guarantee that Jack’s can stick around, but rather just that a boathouse will continue to operate in that location. “Yes, the boathouse will be there, but that doesn’t speak to me,” he says.
Barna confirms that there’s no guarantee one way or another. The idea is to change the arrangement from a lease—-NPS picked up Jack’s lease when the Georgetown waterfront property was transferred to NPS in 1984—-to a more conventional concession. It’s possible that the concession will be given to Simkin without a bidding process, says Barna, or that it’ll be open to bids from all parties.
“Lease kind of things are rare for us,” says Barna. “We tend to operate under these concessions laws where these things go out for a bid for a number of years.”
But Simkin worries that a bidding process could simply go to whomever NPS favors, which might not be Jack’s. “I was told by folks that know that the Park Serivce doesn’t follow proposals and bids like other organizations,” Simkin says, referring to the common practice of giving the concession to the highest bidder. “It’s done strictly on what they believe to be the right fit.” (Barna concedes that’s true: “It does not come down to highest bidder, lowest bidder,” he says. “It has a lot of other things in terms of what the concessioner would supply.”)
Simkin says he was initially brought into NPS headquarters this summer and told that he would have to change to a concession. First, he says, it was a three-year temporary contract; then it became one year, then two. After that, Simkin says he called and wrote to NPS more than 20 times—-“nice letters, not snarky douchebag letters, pardon the French”—-but the only answer he received was “a message back that they’re pursuing the matter and will get back to us shortly. They never did.”
Simkin fears that what’s really behind these developments is a desire by NPS to push Jack’s out in favor of a Georgetown University boathouse or a boathouse operated by Guest Services International, the dominant NPS contractor that runs most of the nearby boathouses.
“I think we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Simkin says.