Chattanooga dock owner wants barge moved

Chattanooga dock owner wants barge moved

July 21st, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

A barge that was once partially submerged along the north shore of the Tennessee River in Chattanooga now floats in a state of disrepair.

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

A downtown Chattanooga dock owner says a rundown barge that's eyed as a waterfront restaurant is illegally tied off to his property and he wants it removed.

Chattanooga businessman Jackson Wingfield said he's considering asking the Hamilton County sheriff to get involved in the dispute over the barge that's moored on the north bank of the Tennessee River across from Ross's Landing.

"I want it gone," said Wingfield. "It's illegally tied up. It's trespassing."

However, Allen Casey of River City Resorts, which owns the barge, said he's trying to work with Wingfield and is hopeful of landing financing soon to build the planned restaurant and bar.

"We have to stay on [the dock] until we can make other arrangements," he said.

Brock Sparks, who is working with Casey, said the barge is in the process of being cleaned up.

"We'll probably move it when we do the cleanup," he said. Sparks said plans are to have a cleanup crew there in September or October.

Late last month, the barge was refloated after it had been half-submerged for more than six months. Leaks were plugged and water was pumped out to bring the barge back to the surface.

The barge, which has a dilapidated structure on it, is situated adjacent to an undeveloped 12-acre tract off Manufacturers Road that's partially owned by Casey's company and Wingfield.

Wingfield bought nearly half the site in 2008 from Casey's company for $2.9 million, according to the parties at the time.

Casey, who built the Chattanooga Choo Choo resort hotel complex on Chattanooga's Southside in the early 1970s, has long had plans to redevelop the riverfront site.

In 1993, he raised the idea of a $15 million inland marina and creating two artificial lakes near the river to hold rental houseboats.

In 2004, Casey said he had plans for construction of a 98-room Amerisuites on the property along with 60 condominiums and a restaurant.

The developer still has plans for a hotel, but he said Friday he hopes soon to nail down financing for the waterfront eatery project first.

Wingfield, however, said Casey has been talking about obtaining financing for his projects for years.

He said the barge is unsightly and a health hazard.

"I don't think it should be here," Wingfield said.

He also claimed the barge isn't properly permitted with the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

Lee Roberts, a public affairs specialist for the corps, said that despite the barge owner raising the structure, "this remains an ongoing enforcement action" and it's not at liberty to discuss details.

"However, the corps continues to work closely with the owner and is pleased with the progress made over the past month," he said in an email.

Bob Doak, who heads the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, has said that if Casey can get the restaurant up and going, "it could be a tremendous asset for the city. People love waterfront dining."

But, he also said that when the barge was on the river bottom it was an eyesore did not present a good image for the city.