HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Baxter Simmons, the owner of Paradise Ocean Club, told 10 On Your Side he was blindsided on Thursday. The National Park Service told Simmons he had to shut down Paradise Ocean Club.
He has been running the club since 2012.
Since it’s been 10 years, it was time for a lease renewal. Simmons spent time drafting up a lease in March. A month later, he sent some additional comments to the National Park Service. He expected to hear back and negotiate a deal, but it was radio silence.
“Thought everything was fine… and never heard anything,” Simmons said.
He thought everything was smooth sailing, so Simmons continued to book the off-season dedicated to catering. The club always closes after Labor Day, but it remains open for special events. He booked a couple of weddings, family reunions and holiday parties for later in the year.
He said the National Park Service hadn’t expressed any concerns about the property or any changes they wanted to be done.
“There has never been a problem. We have never in ten years had an incident. The incident that happened in June did not happen on our property. The person has not been caught, so they have not been linked to us at all, so for them to use that as an excuse against us,” he said. “That happened on National Park property. They were not patrolling and enforcing their own property at the time.”
Regardless, Simmons was given a letter on Thursday. It said he had 30 days to vacate the property.
“I do think it was done deliberately because there has been no communication along the way,” he said.”When you ignore a tenant that is paying you $300,000 a year and say after seven weeks you are out.”
Simmons was told that the National Park Service is changing the vision of the property.
In a response to a 10 On Your Side inquiry, Fort Monroe National Monument Superintendent Eola Dance say the club will be allowed to resubmit their request.
As the National Park Service (NPS) seeks to continue recreational opportunities, we will re-announce the ocean club leasing opportunity with plans to resume enjoyment Memorial Day weekend in 2023,” said Dance. “The decision to re-announce will allow the NPS to clarify the vision, scale, and scope of activities at the ocean club that are appropriate in a National Park setting for the enjoyment of all visitors.”
“Doesn’t add up. In the RFP [Request for Proposal], it doesn’t give them a right to change the vision,” SImmons said.
He said it doesn’t add up because there isn’t a master plan for the whole Fort Monroe area. He said the National Park Service told him to bid on the new vision. They also told Simmons they wanted to get something in quickly, so it wasn’t vacant long.
“I even asked ‘well can we stay through the new RFP process, so we can maintain these events.’ We were told no,” he said.
Despite being told no, Simmons said isn’t going out without a fight.
“We can’t just be thrown to the side. We have run a good business that has a ton of support. Obviously, people want us to be here, so if there was a valid reason for us to leave, please let me know but no one has told me one,” Simmons said.
He isn’t alone in the fight. There is an online petition that over 2,300 people signed to keep Paradise Ocean Club on North Beach.
“It’s been great because I don’t feel like fighting the fight alone. I am not going to let this go down. I have 200 employees here every summer,” Simmons said.
But if there is no resolution between National Park Service and Paradise Ocean Club soon, the club will close.
“The reality is the only way that you don’t follow through with it is if you can’t come to terms on the lease. We only had a couple of changes that were easy changes so it was going to be easily agreed upon,” he said.
The possible closure of the Ocean Club has Tiffany Bumbrey reminiscing.
“It’s sad because it is just a comfortable family oriented, homey. Everybody gets along. Have a good time,” she said. “At the same time, you are thinking this is going to be my last time here.”
10 On Your Side reached out to the National Park Service about their decision to close Paradise Ocean Club. We haven’t heard back.