The Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce this week joined Auburn city staff to bid to become the first place in the Northeast to host the Savage Race, a brutal obstacle course that promises an amazing time — and mud in your underwear.

Next month, Lewiston will host the Color Me Rad 5K for the first time. It’s a national, Utah-based fun run where racers are squirted with paints, powders and gels along the route “until you cross the finish line into a final blitzkrieg of color,” according to the race website.

And that could just be the start.

Chamber President Matt Leonard’s goal is to secure 12 events like those in the next 18 months.

It’s part of a major effort to grow sports tourism here, building on already-popular events like The Dempsey Challenge and the Greater L-A Triple Crown.

“In the 20 years I spent in the Navy, Portland grew,” Leonard said Wednesday. “I think we can do that here, but we have to start somewhere.”

To that end, the chamber has created a new tourism committee co-chaired by Oxford Casino’s Jack Sours and Scott Riccio at Northeast Charter & Tour. It’s focused on sports tourism, adventure tourism and agri-tourism. The bottom line: Growing visitors to grow economic impact.

“We’re ready to work and fight and go after it — and I think there are other communities who have had success who don’t have the fight in them anymore, they just think it’s going to come to them,” Leonard said. “I think that’s a great advantage.”

This week, the chamber joined the National Association of Sports Commissions, a move he said will give them access to tips for landing events as well as access to a trade show next March with 900 events looking for hosts.

“We can walk around and see, ‘What would be a good fit for L-A?'” Leonard said. “If we can identify 50 events that we think fit our region and fit the bid fee structure and things like that, what a tremendous opportunity.”

Some hosting bids require a sizable upfront payment just to be in the running. Others, like the Savage Race and Color Me Rad, require assurances around safety and size of the venue.

The potential here “is huge,” said Marc Gosselin, general manager at the Norway Savings Bank Arena and Auburn’s executive director of sports tourism.

“There (are) so many recreational elements we have in this community,” he said. “We have a lot of ball fields that we can utilize, businesses like Lost Valley. Once you realize what we have here, it will get on their radar. It will be more people reaching out to us, versus us to them.”

Brunswick had hosted Color Me Rad, which draws between 3,000 and 5,000 people, and passed on it this year; the course didn’t work around new development, Leonard said.

“Because the YMCA was the charity benefactor in Brunswick, they contacted Steve Wallace (at the Auburn-Lewiston YMCA) and said, ‘Hey, would the Y over there be interested?'” he said. “We jumped on it very quick.”

Racers will take off from Simard-Payne Memorial Park on Aug. 13 and run through both cities.

“They’re going to discover Lewiston-Auburn,” he said. “There’s going to be a percentage of those people who come back. It’s not just that immediate dollar — it’s going to be the following dollar coming into the community.”

There’s no cost to taxpayers, Leonard said. If Color Me Rad needs police to work overtime, for instance, organizers pay for it.

The plan is to make it an annual event.

Part of Leonard’s goal over the next year is getting hard numbers to show the economic impact of bringing more events in.

Sheila Brennan Nee, strategic director at the Maine Sports Commission, estimated The Dempsey Challenge’s economic impact to the area last year at $105,000.

She called the opportunities here “exciting.”

“(The cities working together) will lead to increased success for the area as a sports destination, further capitalizing on the region’s impressive inventory of natural assets, fields and facilities,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Maine Sports Commission let the chamber know the five-year-old Savage Race was looking for a host in southern Maine for 2017.

Chief Operating Officer Lloyd Parker said Savage will run 11 events this year. The next-closest location is in Pennsylvania.

Last year, 12 events drew more than 100,000 people.

“We look for properties that can handle parking for 1,500 to 3,000 cars (15-30 acres) with good ingress and egress, as well as land owners and municipalities that are eager and willing to work with us,” Parker said via email. “The communities that host our event see a major economic impact. We like properties with interesting terrain and owners that are looking to host the event for many years. We typically need (a minimum) of 150 acres to host our events depending on the layout of the land.”

Leonard and Gosselin have proposed holding the event at Lost Valley ski area in Auburn.

The next step is bringing Savage officials in for a tour.

Hosting more sporting events won’t just have an impact on hotels, restaurants and gas stations, Leonard said. That energy and those visits could inspire people or industry to move here.

“It should have a huge return — not just short-term, but long-term,” he said.

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