HAMPTON – Paradise Ocean Club in Fort Monroe will close permanently after Labor Day weekend after the National Park Service abruptly halted beach club lease negotiations in what the business owner said of “deliberate attack” and “personal attack”.
Business owner Baxter Simmons said he received a letter from the National Park Service on Thursday, ending afternoons spent dancing on the deck against the backdrop of the beach as a group of old plays that customers have enjoyed for 10 years. That letter, he said, informed him that the park service would issue a new request for proposals, reopening bids to lease the location to other businesses, canceling Simmons’ ongoing lease negotiations after he won the bid earlier this year.
“They said they were going to re-tend and we’re invited to bid,” Simmons said. “But I already applied – and I won.”
According to Simmons, he was blindsided by the park department’s decision to send out a new request for proposals, which came after more than seven weeks of attempts to contact the park about finalizing the beach club lease. The beach club, Simmons said, outbid the lease by 35% in late 2021, when the initial request for proposals was issued, and won the bid. In March, Simmons and the park department began lease negotiations.
A draft lease was exchanged between the two parties in April.
“In July, I started asking ‘where’s the lease’?” Simmons said.
Simmons said he believes the park department decided to cancel the lease due to a shooting in June that injured someone in the parking lot adjacent to the beach on June 5. In the days following the shooting, the park service reduced the national park’s weekend hours, closing beaches at 6 p.m. The incident, Simmons said, was the first significant incident of which he is aware in the 10 years the Paradise Ocean Club has operated in Fort Monroe.
“I feel like I was unfairly removed. If there were any documented issues that were repeat issues that we didn’t fix or address, I could understand making a change. “Simmons said. “But they did it for no reason and it was deliberate.
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According to Simmons, he contacted the park department to finalize the lease in July and August. A meeting to discuss the lease was scheduled for September 1.
“(The park department) did it right before a holiday weekend, right before they closed knowing we wouldn’t have enough time to do anything about it,” Simmons said. “If they had told us seven weeks ago that they intended to re-tender and not pursue our lease negotiations, we would have had time to mount a counter-offensive.”
A spokesperson for the National Park Service could not immediately be reached.
The Paradise Ocean Club, which typically closes for the season after Labor Day, will now have to vacate the property by the end of the month.
Between canceling planned weddings, parties and dances, Simmons is collecting letters of support and petition signatures to challenge the decision. Guests can send letters to [email protected] or sign the beach club’s online petition.
“The worst thing is that I have staff who have been loyal to me for 10 years here. And I had to look them in the eye today and tell them that they will not have work in two weeks,” Simmons said.
Caitlyn Burchett, 727-267-6059, [email protected]