An attorney said Wednesday that if a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge approves the deal in a Feb. 25 hearing, work could start shortly, ending years of criticism by city leaders over the barge's presence.
"It's been a long fight," said attorney David Fulton, who represents a Casey company, about efforts to remove the dilapidated vessel.
Casey, who four decades ago successfully developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo into a top tourist destination, had the barge floated to the city in 2009 with dreams of building a restaurant and bar. But nothing happened, the barge fell into disrepair and Casey and his company filed for bankruptcy about a year ago in the face of a lawsuit by investors.
Southern Community Bank has agreed to fund the hiring of an engineer to help with planning the demolition of the top part of the barge, which is reported to have held a casino and restaurant when moored in Pittsburgh before coming to Chattanooga.
Fulton said the bank will receive a first lien on adjacent vacant property on which Casey had hoped to build condominiums and a hotel.
The lawyer said that, after the barge's top is taken off, workers can better see if there are leaks, how the vessel is welded together and make its removal simpler. Court papers said a contractor estimated it would cost $125,000 to dismantle the barge so it could be moved.
Fulton said the barge could be floated downstream to PSC Metals, where it would be scrapped, or relocated to another site.
He said the barge's removal also would make it easier to sell the property, a portion of which has been valued at upwards of $10 million. Fulton said the bank loan would be repaid from the sale of the land, which fronts Manufacturers Road.
Lee Roberts, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, has said that any plan to dismantle the barge would require Corps approval.
If the barge is moved, that also would require coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, he said.
Dave Eck, a man who said he has been living on the barge, noted a lot of people are weary of the barge's presence.
"Everybody is tired of the thing," said Eck, who had been checking the operation of pumps used to eject water from the barge and who was part of an earlier proposal to remove the barge.
He has worried the vessel could sink to the bottom of the river or come loose from its mooring and cause potential problems to a propane storage facility next door.
Court papers show Southern Community Bank's interest rate on the loan is 7 percent. The bank showed interest in the project several months ago, the papers said.
"There was not much local bank interest," Fulton said. "This bank stepped up. We're real pleased about that."
Court papers said approval of the loan would "obviate the need to engage in a difficult, costly and time-consuming battle" with the Corps, which last year stated the barge was in violation of its permit.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.