By Stefanie Jackson – Bay Creek in Cape Charles, once known as a golfing community for retirees, is under new ownership and management, and it’s undergoing a transformation that will breathe new life into its community, attracting younger families and economic vitality, all while preserving the natural surroundings and Cape Charles’ small-town charm.
“Virginia Beach is a great place. Ocean City is a great place. But it’s not this,” said Matt Hagler, vice president of clubs and resorts for Preserve Communities, the real estate development company that recently purchased Bay Creek.
Many Northampton citizens have long expressed a desire to expand the local tourist economy without ruining the county’s natural, rural character and close-knit community.
Preserve Communities aims to do just that by allowing Bay Creek to remain a private club but enhancing it to appeal to a broader clientele, such as younger families looking to purchase a summer home.
Hagler envisions a potential client as perhaps a busy lawyer from Northern Virginia with a wife and children who will be out of school for the summer and need a place to stay where there are safe and fun activities for the whole family.
He paints a picture of Mom staying at the Bay Creek summer home during the week with the kids as they learn how to camp and kayak, with Dad driving down on a Thursday or Friday for the weekend.
Bay Creek will continue to offer world-class golf, with all 18 holes of the Arnold Palmer course and the front nine holes of the Jack Nicklaus course remaining.
The Jack Nicklaus golf course was downsized to make better use of the natural surroundings.
“Beach is always king,” and the Bay Creek property boasts 1.8 miles of white sand beach, Hagler said.
The future of Bay Creek also means integration with the town of Cape Charles, connecting the private community to dining, shopping, and entertainment options, with a golf cart path starting at Palmer Drive and ending at Peach Street.
Developers of other areas have spent $10 million trying to create what exists in Cape Charles, Hagler said.
It’s “like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.”
He isn’t just a white-collar executive with no prior knowledge of the area. Hagler started this project knowing about the Eastern Shore and its “deep, ingrained culture.”
He’s originally from the Baltimore, Md., area, and in his youth, his family would often vacation on the Shore and visit destinations like Fisherman Island.
Hagler said, “I never realized as a kid” how “unbelievably rare and just cool this peninsula is.”
Now he’s ready to invite others to experience the “treasure trove” that is the Eastern Shore of Virginia, including its farmers and watermen, from the barrier islands to Cape Charles’ “mind-blowing sunsets.”
The 1,700-acre Bay Creek property is approved for up to 30,000 units, but Preserve Communities “won’t develop anywhere near that,” Hagler said.
The overall goal isn’t to “maximize real estate,” but to “maximize a lifestyle.”
Preserve Communities seeks to adapt Bay Creek to the new definition of quality. That once meant luxury items like white linen tablecloths and chandeliers, but now it’s about “creating unique, authentic experiences,” such as kayaking, camping, fishing for speckled trout, and dining farm-to-table style, Hagler said.
To maintain the Bay Creek atmosphere and experience, amenities such as the Coach House Tavern will remain available to members only, but the resort will continue its current relationship with the town, which allows local law enforcement officers to use the gym.
There is also a plan to build nature trails on the Bay Creek property, outside the gated community, which will be open to the public.
Bay Creek homeowners are permitted to rent their properties to visitors, whose stays will include temporary club memberships that automatically activate at check-in and deactivate at checkout.
But don’t plan on booking a Bay Creek vacation on Airbnb just yet. Preserve Communities still has to work out the details with Bay Creek homeowners about how to offer and manage the rentals while maintaining a high standard of quality.
Bay Creek’s development stagnated after the “crash of 2008 took everything out,” Hagler said. It never recovered, despite former owner Sinclair Communications – a radio broadcasting company based in Norfolk, Va. – funding the project for the last decade.
Preserve Communities is ready to “breathe life back into” Bay Creek and is putting its money where its mouth is. The company has “spared no expense” landscaping the property and plans to invest $2 million in marketing, Hagler said.
Hagler wants to make the new Bay Creek a place where people can reconnect – with their spouses, kids, themselves, and nature, he said.
His experience includes developing 20 other properties similar to Bay Creek. Hagler is at the forefront of the new Preserve Communities project, along with coworker Bobby Masters, vice president of lifestyle communities.
Hagler hopes his efforts to promote Bay Creek will reverberate through the town of Cape Charles and the entire Eastern Shore.
“It’s one of the coolest places in the country.”