Hill Country News – New owner takes helm at VIP Marina

After falling on hard times last spring, the VIP Marina on Lake Travis now has a new owner. Austin Cameron bought the marina at a bankruptcy sale in November. He plans to make the marina complex once again live up to its name – VIP.

“I want this to be the best marina in Texas. There’s no reason it can’t be 100 percent full, or very close,” said Cameron, who spent several days at the Austin Boat Show last week, letting the public know that VIP is back.

The marina never actually closed during bankruptcy, but the occupancy rate fell as boat owners became concerned about the company’s financial health.

“Occupancy fell to 72 percent. I want it to be at least 98 percent,” Cameron said.

The marina has a Leander address, although it’s much closer to the village of Volente. In fact, it is next door to the Volente Beach water park.

An avid boater and water skier, Cameron began looking for a marina a year and a half ago. He hoped to buy one in either Texas or Oklahoma, but Lake Travis was his first choice. “I always wanted to own a marina, since I was a kid,” he said. “It’s a fixer-upper, and I plan to bring it back to life.”

What happened to the VIP Marina in Lake Travis is in some ways a microcosm of what happened to the entire U.S. Economy – the owner wound up overloaded with debt and wasn’t able to take care of the facility. It wound up in bankruptcy.

The marina was built in 1996 by Rick Redmond, who sold it to Steve Adams in 2003. He ran into financial trouble and filed bankruptcy in May 2009. “You have to reinvest a lot of your profits in a marina,” Cameron said. “Things start to deteriorate and tenants will start noticing and leave. For some people, their boat is their second-largest asset. They want it to stay fun and safe to visit.”

Cameron is the owner of AC Properties Real Estate Investments in Fort Worth. He is selling his inventory and may move to Austin permanently.

For at least two days a week, Cameron lives in an upstairs apartment above the marina store, along with his girlfriend Casey Whitlock and his dog Cowboy (a Yellow Lab that is actually a rare red color). The couple met in Florida, but Whitlock notes, “You couldn’t pay me to go back to Florida. Texas is so fun and laid-back.”

Because of fluctuations in lake levels, Travis is probably the most difficult lake for a marina business, but at the same time, it offers big rewards. “It has one of the highest slip rental rates in the nation,” Cameron said.

VIP also has a big advantage because it’s located near the river channel. That means it doesn’t have to be moved as far as other cove-based marinas when the lake is low. “We’re probably in the best position of any marina in the lake to slowly scoot up and down.”

VIP has four employees, two full-time and two part-time. In addition, the marina recently hired Volente Beach Manager Bill Gauspohl to perform maintenance work. “I’m really excited,” Gauspohl said about the new owners. “We’ve had a lot of great changes already. Attitude and appearance has increased 10-fold.”

The marina offers a variety of services, said Cameron. “We walk the dock, inspect your boat and retie the cover if needed.”

VIP has a pick-up service for boat owners. When they arrive at the parking lot next to Volente Beach, a golf cart will be sent to pick them up and take them to the dock.

This summer the company will begin renting boats, with six ski boats and six jet skis. VIP will also offer courtesy service for those who want it. Staff will clean the boat and fill the ice chest with beer and ice. “I want people’s water experience to be as enjoyable as possible,” he said.

The purchase has taken Cameron full-circle. His first time to water ski was on Lake Travis, when he was just over 2 years old, living on his parents’ ranch in Marble Falls. He was born in Houston and later moved to Fort Worth.

“It was at the end of summer and gave Mom some big bragging rights,” he said.

“I spent my whole life away from here, but now I’m back.” He still loves to water ski and plans to make time for the sport in the early morning hours this summer.

Cameron also likes to scuba dive, but hasn’t been doing it for fun lately. He recently spent nine hours straight in the 57-degree water of the lake, working on the support cables.

Maintaining a marina is much harder than it looks. The marina and docks must be kept level and straight as the lake level rises and falls. Doing that requires a complicated system of cables and winches. Not doing it can bend metal poles and could even put the marina at risk of tipping over during high winds.

“I had to repair and replace the winch stands and support cables that support the marina,” he said. “There are 78 stands; 24 of them were broken or had no cable – about one-third of the support was missing.” The cables have since been replaced and the marina is stable and structurally sound.

Next Cameron will be repairing roof leaks discovered during the latest rain storm. Cosmetic repairs will follow, with bathrooms remodeled to the level of a high-end restaurant.

“I’m training the employees to have a customer focus,” he said. “If the tenants are taken care of, word of mouth will fill the place up.”

For more information about VIP Marina, visit or call (512) 331-5375.

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