Time-share king restarts work on Florida Versailles as business booms

Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:22am EDT
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By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - David Siegel, owner of the largest privately held time-share company in the world, says he is rebounding from the recession so well that he is restarting construction on an extravagant Florida home modeled on the Palace of Versailles outside Paris.

His company, Westgate Resorts, this year is also hiring 1,500 new employees, closing on $450 million in mortgage-backed securities in the first such transactions since 2007, and fending off banks that he says "are throwing money at us now."

"We're the most profitable we've ever been," Siegel told Reuters, projecting nearly $500 million in gross sales this year and expecting to be debt-free within two and a half years.

That is not the epilogue viewers of the movie, "The Queen of Versailles," now screening in independent movie theaters around the country might expect.

The documentary film chronicles the outsized lives of Siegel and his flamboyant wife Jacqueline as they tapped the pre-recession gusher of money from Westgate time-share sales to build what would have been the largest privately owned home in America, a 90,000 square-foot (8,360-sq-metre) indulgence just outside of Orlando patterned after the French Palace of Versailles.

The film ends with Siegel halting construction on the shell of the mansion to marshal all available resources to protect his company.

Viewers watch the lights go out in 2011 on the Westgate name atop the 52-story Planet Hollywood Towers on the Las Vegas Strip, as Siegel, hamstrung by the credit crunch and banks' unwillingness to finance sales, loses his biggest project and millions of dollars he personally invested.

Presenting the documentary as an "allegory of the overreaching of America," director Lauren Greenfield won the directing award for U.S. documentaries at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival showcase for independent films.   Continued...

Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel talks at his home in Windermere, Florida July 27, 2012. REUTERS/David Manning