Staff File Photo / The Chattanooga Choo Choo is shown in this 2017 staff file photo.

Longtime Chattanooga businessman B. Allen Casey Jr., who was the original developer of the popular Chattanooga Choo Choo resort, died Thursday.

Due to the coronavirus, a small private service will be held for Casey, 86, of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, according to Heritage Funeral Home, Battlefield Parkway, though a date wasn't specified.

A celebration of life memorial service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church will be held once the church re-opens, the funeral home said. Persons wishing to share condolences with the family and view a memorial tribute can go to

Casey scaled the heights and plumbed the valleys of the real estate development business.

He took a neglected railroad terminal slated for demolition downtown and turned it into the Choo Choo, still a popular city landmark and one of Tennessee's best-known tourist destinations.

But 40 years later, Casey filed for personal bankruptcy after he was unable to pull off the redevelopment of a high-profile tract of land off the Tennessee River downtown.

Casey developed the Choo Choo in the 1970s, raising some $2 million to turn the site into a hotel, restaurant, convention and tourist complex.

Casey later recalled in an interview in a Chicago Tribune piece that he had spotted a tiny article in a Chattanooga newspaper in 1971 about demolishing the old terminal. Already toying with the idea of a new downtown hotel, Casey sized up the old depot, stating, "Gee, this would make a fantastic entertainment complex."

"Immediately I thought of the song 'Chattanooga Choo Choo,' and I wanted to save the building right then and there," he said.

After opening in 1973 and experiencing success, the Choo Choo ran into financial problems related to increased lodging industry competition and soaring interest rates. In 1987, the Choo Choo filed a bankruptcy reorganization plan. It was sold at auction in 1988, and Casey lost control of the facility.

Casey then tried to develop a 9-acre parcel off Manufacturers Road across the Tennessee River from the Tennessee Aquarium for the better part of two decades. He had envisioned a boat hotel project in which a crane would lift boats off the river and into a small lagoon.

Later, in 2004, he unveiled plans for a 98-room hotel and 60-unit condominium complex with a restaurant, though nothing was built. Still later, Casey bought a barge and floated it from Pittsburgh, docking it in front of the property with the intent of reworking it into a floating New Orleans-style restaurant and bar.

The barge became a lightning rod for community criticism after it sat for years and became dilapidated, and it was eventually removed from the riverfront.

Casey was sued by investors in the property and in 2018, much of the parcel was sold.