Dispute over Jack’s Boathouse nearly finalized

April 4, 2013

After months of dispute and controversy, the legal battle between Jack’s Boathouse and the National Park Service has come to an end. Jack’s Boathouse will be replaced by a similar business, Boating in Boston, by the end of April. Jack’s owner Paul Simkin, despite his opposition to the NPS up to this point, is satisfied with this result.

When the NPS declined to renew the lease for Jack’s Boathouse in January and began looking for a suitable replacement for the decades-old boathouse Simkin filed separate lawsuits against the agency, and the District of Columbia. The NPS required Simkin to reapply for the property because his name was not on the lease, but that of his now-deceased business partner.

Simkin posited a list of legal claims, stating that the NPS had no legal right to terminate his business. He also alleged the NPS was colluding with Guest Services, which runs the refreshment services on the National Mall, behind the scenes to wrest Jack’s away from him and grant  Guest Services the lease.

Last week the court dismissed Simkin’s lawsuit against the District, but a judge ruled that Simkin has sufficient ground to take the NPS to trial. Simkin, however, revealed that he may not do so.

“The court did say that we did, in fact, have a case that should go to trial,” Simkin said. “Whether or not I’m going to do that, I don’t know yet.”

To Simkin, the lawsuit against the city was never important and was filed out of legal necessity. “For legal reasons, we had to bring [the District] into that lawsuit, in order for us to proceed against the park service,” Simkin said. “This was just a legal thing and I think the city understood that.”

Simkin believes that the NPS’s selection of Boating in Boston as the replacement for Jack’s is a direct result of his fight against the NPS. Boating in Boston runs six boating locations in Mass, two of which are very similar to Jack’s, and Simkin views it as an appropriate successor to Jack’s.

“Our main objection to everything [the NPS was doing] was that we didn’t want a corporate boathouse or a huge, collegiate boathouse there, and both of those were in the offing,” Simkin said. “Our involvement here clearly made that impossible.”

Boating in Boston’s small size and attitude toward boating made it a much more preferable replacement to Simkin than a large concessioner like Guest Services. “[Boating in Boston] is a company that is very, very similar [to Jack’s] in the way they do business and the way they feel about the water,” Simkin said. “I’m working with them to take over [Jack’s] assets.”

Simkins suggested that Guest Services would have temporarily taken over the boat house and eventually turned it over to Georgetown. “I think this blocked that from happening,” said Simkin.

President of Boating in Boston Michael Aghajanian echoed Simkin’s spirit of cooperation and optimism. “We have a friendly, cordial relationship back and forth with [Simkin],” Aghajanian said. “Until the National Park Service tells us that we’re clear to operate, we’re not getting involved with anything between him and the National Park Service.”

Boating in Boston has even relieved Simkin’s past worries about what will happen to his workers in the event that Jack’s loses or drops the legal battle against the Park Service. “The best news of all is that they have agreed to truly consider using all of the staff that’s been working at Jack’s, so that’s incredibly good news,” Simkin said.

Despite the standing lawsuit, Boating in Boston is expected to take over their new operation in the next few weeks. However there seems to be confusion between the NPS and Simkin as to the exact date. According to Jeffrey Olson, public affairs officer at the NPS, Boating in Boston is scheduled to begin operating this Monday. Meanwhile, Simkin estimated the new owners will be up and running by April 15.

While the 70-year legacy of Jack’s Boathouse is coming to an end, Simkin himself is genuinely excited about the site’s future. “I want absolutely everyone who’s been a customer of Jack’s to come to this new place because that carries on the tradition,” he said. “Finally, after months and months, I’m able to get a good night’s sleep.”

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