Small Texas town buys $4 million luxury mansion, but deal backfires. Now what, officials ask?

After unsuccessfully trying to sell this hilltop villa  outsisde of Austin, Texas it paid nearly $4 million to acquire, the city of Lago Vista recently started renting the mansion out on home-share sites.
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After unsuccessfully trying to sell this hilltop villa  outsisde of Austin, Texas it paid nearly $4 million to acquire, the city of Lago Vista recently started renting the mansion out on home-share sites.

The 8,000-square-foot mansion perches on a cliff overlooking Lake Travis about 20 miles outside of Austin, Texas. It has a wine cellar in the basement, a billiards table in the game room and red leather reclining loungers in the home theater. Greek statuary guards two turquoise negative-edge swimming pools. There is a helipad nearby.

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The estate rents for as much as $2,000 a day. "First, you arrive at the private gate to realize how tranquil the location is. Then, you pull up to the circular driveway and see the magnificence of the home," a delighted client wrote in a recent HomeAway.com review. "It is hard to believe that this is an actual vacation rental! We each had our own private bathroom, which was extremely nice."

"The views are better than any others you will find on the lake," said Lago Vista City Councilman Kevin Sullivan.

He would know. That’s because the taxpayers of Lago Vista are the mansion’s reluctant owners.

Three years ago, this picturesque lakeside city of 7,000 shelled out nearly $4 million — a figure representing more than half of its annual budget — to buy the sprawling villa. After a couple of years of failing to unload it, the city has turned to using it for the occasional city council retreat and, more recently, renting it out to tourists.

“People love it,” said Jacqueline Wittmuss, owner of JW Properties, which manages the rental for the city.

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Not everyone. Paying top dollar with public money to acquire a manor featuring 20-foot ceilings, a giant pantry and a three-oven kitchen “was not the wisest decision,” said Mark Tippetts, a former city councilman.

"It's not the best situation," added Ed Tidwell, Lago Vista's new mayor.

ExploreFor the story of the city’s reluctant purchase of the Hill Country estate, and interviews with city officials involved, visit MyStatesman.com

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