Chattanooga businessman Casey wants rundown barge sold, but ownership dispute may slow removal

Chattanooga businessman Casey wants rundown barge sold, but ownership dispute may slow removal

May 2nd, 2014 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

A former restaurant barge, purchased by Allen Casey and docked at his property on the North Shore of the Tennessee River for several years, is seen from the Olgiati Bridge.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey appears to be giving up on a dream to put an eatery on a riverfront barge.

But a dispute over ownership of the barge may cause the vessel to remain where it's moored past a federal deadline calling for its removal.

Attorneys for a Casey company and a group of former investors who are suing him are disputing who actually owns the rundown downtown barge, and the matter may have to be sorted out in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier ordered the barge, which has become a lightning rod of criticism due to its condition, to be removed by mid-May from its high-profile site next to a vacant tract of land across from Ross's Landing.

Casey, who floated the barge from Pittsburgh in 2009 to develop the riverfront restaurant, and his company, River City Resort, filed bankruptcy petitions earlier this year.

Attorney David Fulton, who represents River City Resort, had filed a notice to abandon an ownership interest in the barge.

But he said Thursday that "other information" has come to light and he was looking at withdrawing his motion and filing another to try to sell the dilapidated barge under the bankruptcy code.

Fulton said the Corps will give more time to sort out the ownership issue.

However, a lawyer for the group that believes it owns the barge said the Casey company can't sell what it doesn't own.

Attorney Gary Patrick said he'll have to wait and see what's filed in bankruptcy court and let the court decide the issue.

Patrick said a prospective buyer for the barge has already been lined up.

"We still intend on selling the barge," he said.

Patrick wouldn't immediately identify the potential buyer but said he expects the barge to soon be relocated.

"We've got confidence he'll be able to move the barge in a reasonable amount of time," he said.

Patrick said he's working with the Corps in terms of timing.

"We've had multiple conversations about the removal of the barge," he said.

The Corps had no comment Thursday.

In March, the Corps ordered the controversial barge removed along with mooring poles and cable.

But Casey and his company brought the bankruptcy petitions as they faced a civil trial in Hamilton County Chancery Court over the lawsuit brought by the investors. Patrick said Casey and his company defrauded his clients relating to a portion of an undeveloped 11-acre tract to which the barge is moored, a charge that a former Casey lawyer has denied.

Casey, who originally developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo decades ago, said last month in bankruptcy court that the land coupled with nearby tracts was appraised six years ago at nearly $20 million.

"There's very few lots on the river," said Casey.

Benjamin Pitts of Herman Walldorf Commercial, which has the site listed, said he has had "a high level of curiosity" and identified several prospects who are capable of buying the land.

He added that the barge was not helpful in.

selling the land.

River City Resort filed a Chapter 11 petition to reorganize under bankruptcy court protection. The company owns about 6.6 acres of the land on which Casey wanted to put a hotel and condominiums.

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.

Casey has filed a Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy petition to liquidate his assets under the protection of the federal bankruptcy court.

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