HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Negotiations between the Paradise Ocean Club and the National Park Service on a new lease to reopen the beachfront business have stalled, according to the owner, who is accusing his would-be landlord of engaging in “discriminatory conduct.”

In a 13-page letter to the regional director overseeing the National Park Service at Fort Monroe National Monument, an attorney for the club writes that the agency is “taking actions that will
permanently close down a popular beach facility frequented by the underserved local African
American community.”

Specifically, Baxter Simmons, who operated the club at Fort Monroe from 2012 until last September, said the park service has allowed the facility to fall into “complete disrepair” and then refused to agree to what he says are reasonable terms of a new lease, such as capacity limits.

He’s still holding out hope the club can reopen with a plan to ease the park’s concerns, but he said the letter is a result of reaching his “wit’s end.”

“Nobody will even sit down and talk with us,” Simmons said this past week. “They have not negotiated in good faith in any of this.”

The club, which operated out of the former officer’s club at Fort Monroe, provided a place for people to eat, drink and swim on a private Chesapeake Bay beach from May to Labor Day for 10 years. It would also host private events.

Early last year, the club was awarded the right to negotiate another 10-year lease, but those negotiations came to a grinding halt following a June 5 non-fatal shooting outside the club. Baxter wasn’t alerted until Sept. 1 that in 30 days’ time, he would have to leave the property and apply again for the opportunity to negotiate a new lease.

“We had one lease literally taken away from us,” Simmons said. “And as you know from the FOIA information (10 On Your Side) got, they decided to take it away six weeks before they told us that they did it.”

Still, Simmons again bid on the right to negotiate a lease and was awarded the chance earlier this year.

But he said during a walk-through that the facility was not in the condition he left it in.

Pictures included in the letter show black mold, chewed-up HVAC ductwork, vandalism, damaged flooring and trash inside the buildings.

Simmons said he has offered to fix it up, but not for free.

“We will do it in exchange for rent credits, but we don’t want to pay rent while we are fixing the building,” Simmonds said.

He said that the proposal has been ignored, as has one to set a capacity limit for the leased area at higher than 750 people.

He said in the past more than 100,000 people walk through his doors in its four-month season.

“In order to pay over $200,000 a year in rent you have to be able to drive people to the property,” Simmons said. “What concerns me is if I accept the lease as is, I might have to do things at the business that I don’t want to do. I want to attract families and kids and things like that. It might be that I have to go after a more entertainment-based crowd or a more nightlife crowd and I’m trying to operate an amenity during the day.”

He said he has reason to believe that the “entertainment-based crowd” is the one NPS wants to avoid.

In an internal memo sent by Fort Monroe’s former Superintendent Eola Dance, it said “nuisance behavior” had become associated with the club and “these activities are inconsistent with the park setting.”

In the letter, his attorney associates that behavior with a specific race.

“The apparent basis for (NPS) action(s) is that the conduct of the African American community which frequented the facility is not appropriate for a unit of the NPS,” Kevin Garden, the club’s attorney, wrote.

Simmons said his business was frequented by a majority African American crowd.

“We(‘ve) never been told that they are responding the way they are because of the crowd, no,” Simmons said. “We have reason to believe that, yes.” 

Through a spokesperson, the National Park Service wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the lease.

“The NPS continues to negotiate the lease for the multiuse facility formerly known as the Officer’s Club at Fort Monroe National Monument. The National Park Service is committed to engaging and welcoming all communities to enjoy our public lands and waters.”

John Harlan Warren, Communications Specialist, National Park Service

Simmons said if given the chance to reopen, he will change the way he operates. Sunday entertainment would be toned back, as that day of the week became “overwhelming for some people.”

“It really was a good and a fun business to operate and it was an amenity for thousands and thousands of people,” Simmons said. “I hear every day from people that missed the club and missed the opportunity to be out there this summer. … We just need somebody to work with us and sit down and have a discussion so we can avoid any future issues and plan out the course of action.”