Georgetown Current

Agency Picks New Vendor for Boathouse

March 6, 2013

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

The National Park Service announced last week that it has chosen a new contractor to replace the popular Jack’s Boathouse on the Georgetown waterfront, but Jack’s owner Paul Simkin said his business isn’t going anywhere and still plans to open this season.

In a news release Friday afternoon, the Park Service said it had selected B&G Outdoor Recreation Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, for a two-year temporary concession contract to provide non-motorized boat rental and storage out of the Rock Creek Park site Jack’s Boathouse currently operates near the Key Bridge. B&G will have the option to extend the contract after its two years are up.

On Friday, Park Service deputy associate regional director Steve LeBel hand-delivered an eviction notice ordering Simkin to terminate occupancy by April 7.

But Simkin’s attorney, Charles Camp, argues that the eviction and press announcement from the Park Service is in contempt of a court order he obtained from a judge on Feb. 19 that ordered the agency not to take any action against Jack’s Boathouse until after March 31. Camp filed an emergency motion with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sunday.

The dispute over Jack’s Boathouse began in December, after the Park Service found that Simkin did not technically have a lease with the agency. Simkin had taken over Jack’s Boathouse after his business partner — and son of the original owner — died about four years ago, but the lease did not automatically transfer in name over to Simkin, according to the Park Service.

In January, the agency invited vendors to bid for a contract to run the waterfront boat rental facility currently occupied by Jack’s.

Over the past month, a panel of Park Service officials from different offices and regions reviewed the bids for the concessions contract, according to agency spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles.

In the notice to vacate, regional director Stephen Whitesell said the Park Service is not in violation of the Feb. 19 court decision, as it is not proposing to take any action against Jack’s until after March 31. But Camp argued that the letter of eviction counts as an action against Simkin and should be withdrawn, as should the agency’s news release announcing the selection of a new vendor.

Anzelmo-Sarles said the Park Service does not believe it is in violation of any agreement, and that the motion is “unfounded.”

Jack’s Boathouse, located at 3500 K St., has provided boat rentals and storage since 1945. In 1985, D.C. transferred jurisdiction of certain Georgetown waterfront property — including the Jack’s site — to the National Park Service. The rental business has since leased the property on a month-to-month basis from the Park Service — an unusual practice for the agency, which mostly allows vendors to operate on its land through concessions contracts.

The goal, said Anzelmo-Sarles, is to offer continuous and uninterrupted boat rentals and storage in Jack’s location — a task for which B&G Outdoor Recreation will be ideal, she said. The vendor, also known as “Boating in Boston,” operates six kayak, canoe, pedal and rowboat rentals in the Boston area, three of which are located in Massachusetts state parks.

B&G is a veteran-owned company with two full-time employees and 40 part-time employees, according to a written statement by B&G Outdoor Recreation president Michael Aghajanian, and it also promotes boating activities for people with disabilities.

But Simkin said the Park Service has “jumped the gun” with the new contract and eviction notice. A court battle with the agency could take years to sort out, he said, and in the meantime he plans to continue business as usual at Jack’s. The facility reassembled its dock last weekend, has ordered new boats and is currently looking to expand from 27 employees to 32. “We are definitely opening,” Simkin said. “It’s unfortunate that the Park Service’s shenanigans are still up.”

Simkin said he plans to start operations at Jack’s within the next couple of weeks.

He also questioned whether B&G would be able to handle the volume of visitors at the Georgetown waterfront site. According to its website, B&G now serves 20,000 customers at five locations, and has about 200 boats. Simkin estimates that Jack’s Boathouse served around 72,000 visitors last year, and has more than 300 boats.

“The NPS is confident that B&G will provide a high quality experience to neighborhood users, Washingtonians and visitors to Rock Creek Park,” Anzelmo-Sarles responded in an email.

Simkin did not bid on the Park Service’s concessions contract because he said he was concerned that it would force him to waive any rights he may have to the property, and that the process would force him to bid against his own business.

A judge is expected to review the motion and any responses from the Park Service on Wednesday

This article appears in the March 6 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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Construction Zone Pulled From Park Entrance

February 27, 2013

By Brady Holt
Current Staff Writer

After spending well over a year occupying prime real estate at a riverside entrance to Georgetown Waterfront Park, an enclosure of construction materials was removed last week, as the D.C. Department of Transportation declined to renew a public space permit for it to remain.

The fenced site was originally on National Park Service land across from the Washington Harbour but was subsequently moved closer to the street into the city-owned right-of-way, according to Bob vom Eigen, president of the Friends of the Georgetown Waterfront Park.

Contractor Consolidated Waterproofing held a permit through Feb. 6 to use the spot, according to Transportation Department spokesperson Monica Hernandez, but overstayed it. The area, just feet from the Potomac River, was enclosed by a chain-link fence and green tarp, and marked “construction zone — do not enter.”

The enclosure held a trash bin, a pile of materials, a portable toilet and, according to vom Eigen, sometimes parked cars.

The result: “an obvious eyesore,” especially after the park finished its own construction in September 2011, vom Eigen said.

“There’s no reason why [Washington Harbour] can’t keep its materials on its own land,” Stephen Crimmins, another park activist, wrote in an email to The Current last month. “You can’t leave your car across the park entrance for your convenience, so why can they leave their junk there?”

Washington Harbour spokesperson Julie Chase said a condo owner at the complex was responsible for the site. “We have requested the materials be removed and have sought the support of other city government agencies to expedite its removal,” she wrote in an email to The Current last week.

According to Hernandez, the Transportation Department had considered requesting that the construction staging area be “consolidated into a smaller and less obtrusive amount of public space.” But public space manager Matthew Marcou said in an interview yesterday that the materials had already been there long enough.

“There was a permit, the permit expired, we issued them a notice to remove their material, and they did so,” Marcou said.

The contractor applied for a renewal, but Marcou said that continued use of public space was “no longer warranted” and his agency denied the new permit. “We explained that their [earlier] occupancy was sufficient for their needs,” he said.

Unlike some public space permits, temporary construction staging areas are determined by Transportation Department staff without public comment, according to Marcou.

Park activists said they were pleased with the result. Vom Eigen noted that he had been in contact with Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans’ office. “I am not sure who did what, but the bottom line is great,” he wrote in an email yesterday.

“This eyesore should have been removed long ago,” added Crimmins. “We finally have a first-class waterfront entrance to this first class waterfront park.”

 

This article appears in the Feb. 27 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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George Town Club Leaders Recruit Young Professionals

February 20, 2013

By Alix Pianin
Current Staff Writer

A young professionals committee is working to breathe new life into the nearly 50-year-old George Town Club, where facility use has been on the decline in recent years, members say.

The board of the club, located at 1530 Wisconsin Ave., has spent the last year strategizing ways to boost attendance and attract new members — particularly people under 35, said board member Sharon Casey. The club formed the new committee to develop fresh events, overhaul the club’s interior design and revamp its restaurant menus.

“A lot of our members … were older, and they didn’t use the club as much,” Casey said. “People would go [into the club], and there wasn’t a lot of lively activity.”

In more recent years, Casey said the George Town Club board saw that members were visiting the venue mostly for formal special occasions, but did not come more casually on a daily or weekly basis. Not only was daily activity slow, but turnout for scheduled club events was “anemic,” Casey said.

The key to reinvigorating the club, Casey said, seemed to be in shifting its demographics. The board reached out to about a dozen young professionals in the area to discuss ways to attract a younger crowd, including Elizabeth Miller, a recently joined member who has been working on new events and strategies.

An interior house design committee has been tasked with updating the club’s decor — “The Williamsburg blue upholstery is a little out of fashion,” Miller noted. Local restaurateur Bo Blair is creating a new menu for the club’s Grill Room, which will feature less expensive gourmet food and beer options “so that people can eat there more frequently without taking as big a hit to their pocketbook, while preserving very fine dining in our dining room,” said Casey.

And a programming team has spent the last few months working to develop events and activities to attract different types of members and visitors to the George Town — including a series of February “learning lunches” with guest speakers. The idea, Casey said, is to arrange a variety of events that will accommodate people with different types of schedules.

Earlier this month, architect Simon Jacobsen discussed his award-winning architecture; a workshop last week with florist Sidra Forman on flower philosophy and arrangement was sold out. Today, the George Town Club will host an appetizer-and-cocktail evening event with authors Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy.

The George Town Club, which started in 1966, is made up of three town houses that have been combined into one establishment. Members have access to private living rooms, dining rooms, wine cellars and entertainment venues — where they can host parties and attend events like concerts and wine tastings.

In bringing younger members on board, the club has also benefited from their social network. Each committee member personally reached out to five friends or acquaintances who might be interested in joining; soon, the club gained more than 50 additional members.

“No one wants to join unless they know other people are joining,” Casey said. “It was like everybody joined hands and jumped in the pool together.”

The George Town Club currently has about 500 members, she said.

While the club may have originated as a stomping ground for nearby Georgetown residents, a number of its members now live in the Maryland or Virginia suburbs. One goal is to make the club an appealing place for people who live outside Georgetown but work in the area.

“I use the club a lot to hang out — sometimes I’ll have couple hours of dead time between a meeting and an evening event,” said Casey, who lives in Maryland. “It’s a great place for people to hang their hat while in the city.”

“I think people would love to venture [to the club] in the morning, sit next to the fireplace, read a newspaper they don’t subscribe to at home,” Miller said. “Most major cities — London, New York — have clubs like these, and they’re successful.” 

The club board also hopes to attract membership from families who may be moving into the area for the long term, and could appreciate a neighborhood home-away-from-home.

The George Town Club could provide a place where “the staff knows them, knows what they drink,” Casey said. “It’s a world that doesn’t exist anymore. We live in such a world of anonymity that you have to go to a restaurant pretty frequently for them to know you.”

Change to the George Town Club will most likely come over the next year and a half, said Miller.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she said. “What [the club] was in the ’80s is what it still is today, and that model is a little outdated. We need to take everything that’s great about it and just make it a little bit more current.”

This article appears in the Feb. 20 issue of The Georgetown Current newspaper.


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