No, this isn't a new timeshare resort. It's a private residence - a 90,000 square foot new home for the founder of Westgate Resorts. After an earlier foreclosure, construction on the palatial residence (named Versailles after the famous chateau in France) has resumed.
Have you heard about the "Timeshare King", his queen and their castle? The 2012 documentary Queen of Versailles explored the story of David Siegel (Westgate founder), his wife Jackie, and the supersized mansion they're building, supposedly the largest home in the US. The great recession left their timeshare empire crumbling, and Versailles was foreclosed and put up for sale.
Now construction on the house has restarted. In a recent interview, David Siegel says his timeshare company is "lean and mean", and more profitable than ever before. If you're a timeshare owner, is this good news for you?Construction on the Siegels' mansion Versailles has restarted
It takes a certain amount of arrogance to decide to build the biggest house in America, and name it after one of the most famous palaces in France.
The original Chateau de Versailles near Paris was the home of Louis XIV (the "Sun King") and his court. Intended as a showcase for the glories of France and its ruler, the design and decor were luxurious and extravagant.The original palace of Versailles, home of France's Louis XIV
The new version of Versailles is also over the top. Their 23,000 sf home was too small, so the Siegels decided to go big this time. The plans reportedly call for the house to include movie theaters, several pools, a waterfall, and underground parking for 30 cars.
The four-story ballroom I can understand, but who needs 23 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, a bowling alley and a roller rink in their home?
Rags to riches...
Siegel got started in real estate in the 1960s. He owned an orange grove, bought and subdivided property, and even sold swamp land in Florida to unsuspecting investors.
From there, he moved on to timeshares, founding his company Westgate Resorts in the 1980s and opening their first resort. By 2010, his company had 28 resorts, and annual revenues of about $1 billion.
During this time, he married Jackie, a former beauty queen 30 years his junior. They lived a lavish lifestyle in their meager 26,000 sf home, with a household staff of 19 to take care of things. She bragged about buying $17,000 boots, and spending $1 million a year on clothes.
Of course a house that size is too small, so they began work on Versailles, a home enormous enough to fit their ambitions. Read more about the biggest McMansion of them all.
That looks suspiciously like a throne, doesn't it? Fortunately, while the French king liked to show off his legs, the timeshare king leaves that to his wife.
... to rags ...
In 2009, things began to fall apart, thanks to the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Timeshare sales dropped as credit dried up and the recession hit people across the US hard. Meanwhile, the banks were squeezing Siegel and his company.
Construction was halted on Versailles, and the house went into foreclosure. Siegel had to sell his new high-rise resort in Las Vegas, PH Towers Westgate.
The company laid off thousands of employees, and the couple laid off 15 of their household staff. Jackie was forced to fly on a commercial jet instead of a private plane, and expressed regrets at being down to just 3 nannies.
Siegel even attempted to influence the 2012 presidential election, sending an e-mail to all his employees saying that their jobs would be in danger if Obama won the election. He closed with this...
My motivation to work and to provide jobs will be destroyed, and with it, so will your opportunities. If that happens, you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about.
... to riches ...
Of course Obama won the election, and Siegel didn't retire. In fact, he's now talking about his current financial success rather than the demise of his company. He claims that cost-cutting measures they instituted have made Westgate lean, mean, and stronger than ever.
See the Siegel interview on CNBC...
We're basically doing what the whole country should be doing. We're living within our means. The company today is more profitable than it was back in its heyday of 2008 in terms of actual profit. We're more profitable today than we have been in our history.
Construction on the modern Versailles has begun again, with an anticipated completion in two years.
What does this mean for you?
The subjects of Louis XIV had no choice but to pay for his lavish palaces and lifestyle. Their taxes went to the royal coffers, for the king to spend as he chose.
Nowadays, though, the people who pay for this "king" and his palace do so voluntarily. If you're already a Westgate timeshare owner, then I wish you all the best. If not, then it's your choice.