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The towboat Claude R shoves the Casey barge downstream past the Chattanooga riverfront and the Southern Belle excursion boat in this file photo in late April.

The Mississippi firm that rid businessman Allen Casey's derelict barge from Chattanooga's waterfront says the vessel is stripped down to its frame and nearly cleaned up.

Gulfstream Enterprises officials are leaning toward recycling the barge for scrap, but there's a 25 percent chance it could be sunk in the Gulf of Mexico as an artificial reef and they're willing to take local donations to see that happen.

"Companies love publicity. We'd give them recognition," said Will Ladnier, co-owner of the Biloxi-based business, on Thursday.

Ladnier estimated the cost to turn the barge into a reef at nearly $100,000. He said he'd put up $25,000 in order to make it a reef in the Gulf "where it needs to be."

Dubbed "the eyesore on the North Shore," the barge was a sore spot for many Chattanoogans as it fell into disrepair while awaiting development where it was moored on the Tennessee River across from Ross's Landing.

Casey, who had turned the Chattanooga Choo Choo into a top tourist attraction decades ago, sought to make the vessel into a floating restaurant and bar. But he and a related company filed for bankruptcy early last year.

Jerrold Farinash, the trustee in Casey's U.S. Bankruptcy Court case, said either use Ladnier has in mind for the barge is acceptable to him.

"I don't care what he does with it. I wanted it out of here," said Farinash, who brought Ladnier's firm into Chattanooga to remove the barge.

Gulfstream was given ownership of the rundown vessel and paid $195,000 to remove it, which the company did in late April.

Ladnier said the barge Thursday was "sitting level, floating perfectly" at his company's facility in Biloxi Bay.

He said the state would like to see it become a reef, adding there's "minimal" funding from Mississippi. Securing the rest of the money takes a lot of work, Ladnier said. Interested parties can contact him at wjladnier@yahoo.com, he said.

If the reef idea doesn't happen, Ladnier said the barge will be cut into small pieces and hauled to a steel mill, where it would be melted down and something else made of the metal.

"In the end, something good can come out of it," he said.

Ladnier said he's envisioning a photo with his daughters and their friends standing in front of the barge with 10 pink hard hats and tools.

He said a photo caption could say something like "a father-daughter team destroys a floating strip club," referring to a former use in Pittsburgh where Casey bought the barge.

Farinash said the vacant riverfront property on Chattanooga's riverfront to which the barge was moored remains part of Casey's bankruptcy case.

Casey had wanted to turn the 10-acre tract off Manufacturers Road into site for a hotel and condominiums, but nothing was ever built.

Farinash said work is underway in court to sort out the claims made on the property before it can be sold.

"Bankruptcy code provides that a person who has a lien has a veto of any sale unless they're paid in full," he said. "In this case, you have factions who've been warring with one another for many years. It's not a good business decision to try to sell without them all being in agreement."

Any prospective buyer will want to know that "there will be a clean sale," Farinash said.

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

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