published Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Cleanup of barge not enough for Chattanooga tourism official

Workers collect scrap metal Tuesday as some cleanup is under way at the barge owned by Allen Casey on the north shore of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.
Workers collect scrap metal Tuesday as some cleanup is under way at the barge owned by Allen Casey on the north shore of the Tennessee River in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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The cleanup of a run-down river barge across from Ross's Landing should be finished by week's end, but the city's top tourism official called for the developer to move ahead with his plans for a restaurant.

"Anything less than a first-class restaurant is unacceptable," said Bob Doak, the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau president.

Barge owner Allen Casey said Tuesday the barge, which holds a couple of structures, will be cleaned up and won't be an embarrassment while he continues to put together financing for his project.

"It will have to do until we get our money," he said.

It has been four years since Casey brought the barge to Chattanooga, and its deteriorating condition in a visible part of the city has critics sounding the alarm again. The criticism comes with tourism season about to begin in earnest and with the USA Pro Cycling Championships and Riverbend Festival expected to draw thousands of people to the city in the next few weeks.

Early Tuesday, a pile of metal and other debris collected from the barge sat on its deck awaiting transport by river to a scrapyard, Casey said.

"We said we will clean it up," he said. "We had planned to do so."

Still, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said the barge remains out of compliance with its permit.

Corps spokesman Lee Roberts said that since the matter is an "ongoing enforcement action," he couldn't discuss the specifics of discussions with Casey.

"The Corps remains in contact," he said. While the Corps doesn't regulate "eyesore issues" directly, those may be addressed to make sure the barge is in compliance with the permit, he said.

Casey, who developed the Chattanooga Choo Choo more than three decades ago into one of Tennessee's top attractions, has said he's in negotiations for project financing. In addition to the barge restaurant, Casey wants to redevelop the adjacent 12-acre vacant tract off Manufacturers Road to which it's moored.

Doak said while the barge may be cleaned up for the upcoming Riverbend Festival, there are still many tourists and area residents who frequently visit the riverfront the rest of the year.

"If he's able to turn it into first-class waterfront dining, that's tremendous," he said. But, anything less than that is an eyesore, Doak said.

Casey floated the barge to Chattanooga from Pittsburgh in 2009 with the intention of putting in a New Orleans-style restaurant, a steakhouse and a bar. He said the existing structure had held four bars at one time.

In late 2011, the barge took on water and sat half-submerged until last summer when it was raised.

In 2004, Casey announced plans for a 98-room Ameri-Suites on the adjacent parcel along with 60 condominiums, but the project didn't materialize.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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