published Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Barge owner Allen Casey: Chattanooga waterfront land worth $20 million

  • photo
    A former restaurant barge was purchased by Allen Casey and docked at his property on the north shore of the Tennessee River for several years. Casey testified Monday at a bankruptcy hearing.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey on Monday spoke publicly for the first time in his bankruptcy cases, saying his high-profile downtown riverfront land coupled with nearby tracts was appraised six years ago at nearly $20 million.

“There’s very few lots on the river,” said Casey during questioning by attorneys at a creditors meeting at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chattanooga.

Key to major development on the site, Casey said, is working with local Realtor Fletcher Bright. He is a significant shareholder of a company, JIT, which owns nine adjacent acres that hold large propane tanks on site.

Casey attorney David Fulton said the tanks ought to be removed before Casey’s land can be developed into a potential hotel and residences, which has been proposed in the past.

“Bright is willing to sell if the price is right,” Fulton said. Bright declined comment later Monday.

In February, Casey company River City Resort filed a Chapter 11 petition to reorganize under bankruptcy court protection. The company owns about 6.6 acres of undeveloped real estate across the Tennessee River from Ross’s Landing where a controversial rundown barge is moored.

However, about five other acres of adjacent land sits undeveloped as well, including property owned by another local businessman, Jackson Wingfield, Casey said.

Fulton said that if all the parcels were joined with the JIT property near the Olgiati Bridge, the site would make a sizable tract for redevelopment.

However, Bright said there’s another landowner which owns a steel company and warehouses on both sides of the Olgiati.

Also, Casey said there’s a railroad spur that runs on some of his land and into JIT. He said he has sued twice to get the spur removed but lost in court. Casey said that whoever would control the JIT property could have the tracks removed if the land were to be redeveloped.

“That’s why it’s important to work with Bright,” Casey said.

Fulton said plans are to market the Casey property.

“It just needs to be sold,” he said. “There’s interest but no firm offer.” Fulton said the property is undergoing a new appraisal.

The immediate future of the barge remains cloudy. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given River City Resort until mid-May to remove barge. However, River City Resort said it doesn’t own the vessel.

Fulton also denied Casey was operating “like a Ponzi scheme” with the riverfront property, an earlier charge by an attorney representing a group of investors who is suing Casey and River City Resort.

Gary Patrick, who represents the investors, had said Casey had kept borrowing money, drawing the funds out without improving the property and using the site as “a piggy bank.”

Casey, president of River City Resort, has filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition for himself to liquidate his personal holdings. Casey and his company filed for bankruptcy as the civil suit was being readied for trial.

The 80-year-old businessman developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago into one of Tennessee’s top tourist attractions. He had hoped to develop the riverfront property in addition to the barge.

But the barge became dilapidated and the source of community criticism, including from Mayor Andy Berke.

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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