published Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Rundown river barge not complying with permit as eyesore remains in Chattanooga

The undeveloped and dilapidated barge tied to the Northshore continues to be an eyesore as Chattanooga's biggest riverfront festival approaches.
The undeveloped and dilapidated barge tied to the Northshore continues to be an eyesore as Chattanooga's biggest riverfront festival approaches.
Photo by Tim Barber.
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BARGE TIMELINE

* 2009 - Chattanooga developer Allen Casey floats barge in from Pittsburgh. Plans to put in New Orleans-style restaurant, a steakhouse and bar.

* November 2011 - Still undeveloped, barge shifts to one side, water pours in and the barge becomes half-submerged on the river bed.

* June 2012 - TVA agrees to temporarily cut the river's flow to help refloat the barge. After several attempts, barge is lifted to water level.

* April 2013 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says barge is out of compliance with the terms of its permit.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says a rundown river barge moored across from Chattanooga's top tourist attraction isn't complying with its permit, which ultimately could lead to its removal.

But barge owner Allen Casey said he's working to gain the financing to revamp the barge and turn it into a floating restaurant amid other developments on an adjacent tract of riverfront land.

"We hope it will happen very soon," Casey said. "I'm embarrassed it has taken this long."

The corps' statement is the latest development regarding the barge that is across the river from the Tennessee Aquarium. It has been nearly a year since the barge was refloated last June after sitting half-submerged on the north bank of the Tennessee for months.

Lee Roberts, a public affairs specialist with the corps, said the group remains in contact with Casey and his River City Resort Inc. in "an ongoing enforcement action." He declined to discuss the nature of communications with Casey.

Roberts said in an email that noncompliance with the corps could be resolved by modifying the barge permit, having the permittee comply with an administrative action or suspension or revocation.

Bob Doak, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau's chief, said the barge's removal still could take "a bit of time" even if the permit is revoked, and he called on Casey to move the barge at once.

"In my opinion, he ought to do the right thing and remove it immediately without enforcement agencies making him do it," he said. "It's terrible and an eyesore. It's a disgrace."

Kim White, who heads the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., noted that when the barge was refloated last June, promises were made to clean and fix it up. But windows are broken, an awning is in tatters and debris is strewn on the deck.

"What a terrible neighbor," she said, noting millions of dollars have been invested in the riverfront to bring it to its present state.

Casey, who made a name for himself with the successful development of the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago, said he's in negotiations for project financing, but wouldn't give details.

"We're making progress and close ..." he said, adding that banks are slow to act in the current lending environment.

Casey owns property next to the barge that fronts the riverfront and has access from Manufacturers Road. In 2004, Casey announced plans for a 98-room AmeriSuites on the tract along with 60 condominiums, but nothing was built.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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