HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Nearly four months after Paradise Ocean Club learned they would have to leave their space at Fort Monroe National Monument, recently uncovered emails reveal more about why and when the National Park Service decided to end lease negotiations.
The club, which operated out of the former officers club at Fort Monroe since 2012, provided a place for people to eat, drink and swim on a private Chesapeake Bay beach from May to Labor Day. This past spring, the club was awarded the right to negotiate another 10-year lease .
However in the days following a June 5 non-fatal shooting on Fort Monroe, NPS officials said in internal communications that “nuisance behavior” had become associated with the club and “these activities are inconsistent with the park setting.”
Specifically, a draft communications plan obtained through the Freedom of Information Act said officials have had to respond to complaints of “vehicle racing, drunken behavior, profanity, lude dancing, public displays of intimate contact, and inappropriate clothing worn in a family/park setting.”
In an email dated July 18, 2022, then park Superintendent Eola Dance wrote to other park officials saying “the current position is to discontinue negotiations (with Paradise Ocean Club) based on the new information that has come about since June 5 and announce a new RFP.”
Club owner Baxter Simmons said he was “blindsided” by NPS’s decision to end negotiations for a new lease. He wasn’t alerted until September 1, that in 30 days he would have to have everything off the property.
“This proves what we already suspected. They literally targeted our business,” Simmons said in a recent interview.
Simmons, who also owns Baxter’s Sports Bar in downtown Norfolk, has been outspoken in saying his business is not the problem.
He said he has long had a robust security plan in which customers who enter the club are either wanded or required to step through a metal detector. Off-duty police officers also work on site.
“We worked with the Hampton Police Department, we worked with a private security firm. The chief of police will tell you a very safe venue out here,” Simmons said.
He also points out that the shooting that occurred happened off property. While nobody was ever arrested, Simmons said there is no proof they ever were in his club that day.
Still he alerted Dance right away when the incident happened. Internal communication reviewed by 10 On Your Side confirms this.
Yet in a June 24 letter to Virginia ABC, the issuer of Paradise Ocean Club’s mixed beverage license, Dance said the disruptive behavior occurred “without interruption, redirect, or
reporting by Paradise Ocean Club to the NPS or HPD.”
Simmons said following the incident NPS cut off nearly all communication with him.
“We had the ability to negotiate a lease with national parks, they could have sat down and said ‘we have some concerns, lets figure out how we can get to an endpoint where we are both happy.’ But they didn’t do that they just decided to pull it away from me,” Simmons said.
Email records show that between July 13 and July 22, Simmons sent three emails to Dance regarding lease negotiations. One was returned, indicating intentions to set up a meeting on August 1.
Simmons said that email never came.
In August, Simmons sent three emails to Dance’s boss, Colonial National Historic Park Superintendent Jerri Marr. She eventually responded back, setting up the September 1 meeting.
“Behind the scenes decisions were made and then all of a sudden September 1. We’re told you’re out in 30 days, your business is done,” Simmons said.
Neither Dance or Marr responded to multiple requests for comment. Dance no longer works for NPS.
Simmons said he can’t help but think that the club’s popularity with the young African American community has something to do with the decision.
“I think people are unhappy with some of crowd that we got,” Simmons said. “I really do and I think that is unfortunate. Because the crowd we got was a lot of good young people that was having a good time.”
Simmons said he thinks the business has possibly outgrown what Fort Monroe expected. He said more than 100,000 people walk through his doors in its four month season. He said the business contributes roughly $300,000 a year in revenue.
“I think people want a quiet community out here and they don’t want any issues or problems,” Simmons said.
Roughly 5,400 people have signed a petition to reopen the facility. Simmons says he has submitted another bid to negotiate a new lease.
While NPS initially said they hoped to have an operator in place for the start of the 2023 summer season, they did not respond to inquires about how many bids were submitted.