In the wake of sharp criticism by tourism and downtown leaders over his dilapidated river barge, the owner said Friday he plans to start cleanup work soon.
Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey said work to fix up the barge is in the works and could start as early as this weekend.
"We had this planned to go before Riverbend," he said about the popular summer festival. "We pushed it up."
But Casey made similar comments last summer about cleaning up the barge that's moored on the north side of the Tennessee River downtown across from Ross's Landing. That's when it was refloated after sitting half-submerged on the river bed for months.
Chattanooga area boaters said the revamp of the rundown barge, which Casey wants to turn into a floating restaurant coupled with developing an adjacent parcel of riverfront land, can't come too soon.
Tommy Dorough, of Signal Mountain, said he and a group of friends boat regularly on the river downtown near the barge that sits across from the Tennessee Aquarium.
"When we go by that thing, we look at each other and shake our heads and say 'It's still there?'" he said.
Another boater, Terry Smith, said he gets on the river about once a week, traveling from Browns Ferry Marina to downtown.
"It's always depressing to see that eyesore," he said in an email. "Every time we pass it, everyone comments on how bad it looks. The closer you get, the worse it looks. It is an embarrassment to Chattanooga."
Jeff Styles, a talk radio host on WGOW 102.3 FM in Chattanooga, shot a video from the river dubbed "Scenic City eyesore" that he posted on YouTube Friday. The video takes a tongue-in-cheek look at what it calls a "ghost barge."
Styles questioned if the restaurant plan is a legitimate project anymore, and he said the barge appears to be a public safety hazard.
"It needs to be moved," he said.
Dorough said he has called U.S. Sen. Bob Corker's office and that of U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann to give his opinion about the barge.
Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said in an email that they are aware of the barge situation and have reached out to the federal agencies which have jurisdiction.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said this week that the barge isn't in compliance with its permit and that it remains in contact with Casey in "an ongoing enforcement action," but it declined further comment.
Casey, who successfully developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago, said he's working to garner financing to fix the barge, which he brought to Chattanooga in 2009.
"We're making progress and close," he said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.