A controversial barge moored on Chattanooga's downtown waterfront, which has drawn the fire of city leaders for its rundown condition, might be removed by the time of next month's Riverbend Festival.
A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge on Thursday approved a plan to put the dilapidated vessel docked across from Ross's Landing up for sale.
Judge Shelley Rucker said the proceeds from the sale of the barge, for which a $50,000 minimum bid was set, are to go into an escrow account. The funds will be dispersed later after the ownership issue is sorted out in the bankruptcy cases of Chattanooga businessman Allen Casey and his company, River City Resort.
The judge told opposing attorneys in a hearing that they can "argue over an interest-bearing account rather than a barge on the river."
Casey attorney David Fulton said they want to have the barge removed by the start of the festival, which begins June 6.
Fulton said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has revoked the barge's permit and ordered its removal, is on board with the plan to seek bids for the vessel, which Casey had hoped to turn into a floating restaurant and bar.
Attorney Gary Patrick, who represents a group of Casey investors who say they own the barge, said plans are to accept the "highest and best" bid. The winning bid will include insurance to cover the barge's removal, he said.
"We'll accept that. The court will approve the sale," Patrick said, adding that bids can be forwarded to Fulton.
Fulton said there are several interested parties, and they'll try to get the maximum price for the barge.
He said he set the $50,000 floor for the barge's sale after Patrick indicated there was a potential buyer who would pay that amount.
Patrick has challenged the assertion that River City Resort owns the barge. He has said that his clients have ownership, and that Casey can't sell what he doesn't own.
But the parties met for about 40 minutes Thursday before the hearing and hammered out the agreement the judge approved.
In March, the Corps ordered the vessel be removed from its mooring on the Tennessee River next to a vacant tract of land across from Ross's Landing.
Casey and his company later filed bankruptcy petitions as they faced a civil trial in Hamilton County Chancery Court over a lawsuit brought by the investors.
Patrick said Casey and his company defrauded his clients relating to a portion of the 11-acre waterfront tract, claims that Casey has denied.
Casey had the barge floated to Chattanooga from Pittsburgh in 2009. Nothing was built on it.
Casey, who developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago, had plans to put condominiums and a hotel on the land.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318.