As reported over the weekend by Aaron Wiener of the Citypaper, Paul Simkin, the owner of Jack’s Bathouse, is asserting the the National Park Service no longer owns the Georgetown waterfront.
Simkin’s assertion is based upon a reading of the original council resolution regarding the transfer of the land from the city to NPS in 1985. The resolution provides that the transfer will revert to the city if there are any amendments to the deed. There have been two amendments, in 2000 and 2005.
GM’s worst grade in law school was in property law, so he has zero idea how strong a case Simkin has. His initial thought is that it’s not terribly strong since the reversion language is in a council resolution and not the deed of transfer itself. But that’s a C+ property law student talking.
But setting aside the legal issue, what would be the ramifications if Simkin is right? Pretty big. As Jack Evans pointed out in the City Paper article, it would mean the city has to pay to maintain the park, something it’s in a much better position to do that now than in 1985 (let alone 1995).
The park would immediately become a crown jewel in the city’s park portfolio. And while GM has some concerns about the city’s ability to maintain it, he would be very interested to see what the city could do with the park. That’s because the park currently strains under NPS’ orthodoxy regarding “passive enjoyment” of the park. Under this philosophy, no organized events or activities can take place in the park.
For an illustration of what that means, remember that before the city relinquished control of the park, it ran a popular ice rink there in the winter. As soon as NPS took over, the rink was permanently mothballed.
There is a lot of responsibility that goes with running this beautiful park, and the city would have to be careful how it would manage it (the wonderful Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park would still play a key role in protecting the park). But such fun events like a summer movie fest could take place much more easily if the city owned the land.
And, of course, this would give Simkin a huge upper hand in keeping control of Jack’s, seeing as he has strong local support. This would also have the potential to jump start the long delayed plans for two to three new boathouses clustered around the Key Bridge. Without NPS’ never ending processes, the city could move fast to get those projects moving.
Of course, all of that is getting a little ahead of ourselves. The legal question comes first. But there’s a more than negligible chance that NPS may ultimately rue the day it tried to kick out Jack’s.