AMESBURY — City officials will soon be meeting with representatives from Amesbury Sports Park to assess the handling of The Color Run, which brought more than 15,000 runners to the city over the weekend.
Billed as “the happiest 5K on the planet,” the event raced through the streets of Amesbury both Saturday and Sunday — traveling from Merrill Street along Point Shore and the Merrimack River, down Beacon Street and Route 150 to Hunt Road and the sports park.
Considered the largest race ever hosted by the community, the event was not only unique in its size but in its design — with runners pelted with colored dye in the form of cornmeal powder at every kilometer, resulting in their clothing looking tie-dyed by the finish line.
While Sunday’s installment, with a decidedly smaller crowd by about a third, went off without a hitch after some logistical changes were made, Saturday’s run was a different story — due in large part to an accident that shut down a portion of Interstate 495 during a key time in the event.
The city was already dealing with race-related road closures and a high volume of beach traffic typical for a summer weekend when traffic had to be rerouted onto local roads because of the accident, creating a logistical nightmare for Amesbury police and event organizers, officials said.
The tie-ups stalled traffic on Route 110 and delayed the frequency of the bus shuttles on hand to bring participants from the race finish line at the sports park back to their vehicles parked at satellite lots in Seabrook and Haverhill. As a result, runners had to wait around longer at the sports park than they were prepared to.
Meredith Robinson, director of sales for Amesbury Sports Park, said the police department was very helpful making the necessary adjustments on Saturday and that things went much more smoothly on Sunday when conditions in the area were more typical.
“There were no problems on Sunday whatsoever,” Robinson said.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer said yesterday he anticipates meeting with Color Run organizers to determine what went well, what could have been done better and if there are any outstanding issues that need to be addressed for any future events.
“We’ll all get together, the police, the emergency medical people, the DPW, whoever else we think, and with the organizers, and we’ll talk,” Kezer said. “That’s typical for these large events.”
Kezer said that he expects the Color Run organizers to pay all costs associated with the race, including for cleanup and the detail officers stationed along the race route. The mayor said the roads along the route appeared to have been cleaned up well, but that at least one house needed some attention, which event organizers were expected to address.
The mayor added that the organizers know that he expects them to hold up their end of the bargain if they want to return to Amesbury.
“Things that haven’t been done need to get done, and they know that if they want to propose another event. It’s based on how well the previous event has gone if they want to get approval for the next one,” Kezer said.
While the Color Run earned glowing reviews from participants, with many saying it lived up to its name and tagline, not all the feedback was good.
Prior to the race, some residents living along the route complained about the roads being closed for two consecutive weekend mornings, while others expressed concern that the race wasn’t giving enough back to the city, either through charitable donations or through a bump in economic activity.
On the parking issue, critics pointed to the fact that runners were shuttled in from Seabrook and Haverhill and didn’t have a chance to visit downtown or do business locally as a result.
Kezer said his goal is for these types of events to have as broad a community benefit as possible, but that he also requires them to have a rock-solid parking plan after a race last year turned into a washout.
In that incident, the sports park had made arrangements with a local farmer down the street from the venue to provide parking. But when the farmer’s fields became soaked with rain and unusable, “a giant fisaco” resulted, Kezer said.
“So we required them to come up with a parking plan that works rain or shine,” he said.
Robinson said Amesbury’s school lots have been used for satellite parking in the past. But she said organizers find it’s usually better to use one or two larger lots that are more easily accessible to the highways, especially with big races like The Color Run that draw thousands. Satellite parking this past weekend was located at the Seabrook Greyhound Track and Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, both of which are located right off the highway.
As far as the issue of road closures, Robinson said The Color Run was an unusual case in which all the runners went off at the same time, as opposed to the usual setup where small groups of runners go off in heats scheduled every 20 to 30 minutes.
She said that there won’t be any more races this year that will require streets to be closed.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done an event like that,” Robinson said. “None of the other events coming up involve any street closures.”
In response to questions about the event’s benefit, while The Color Run is a for-profit organization, its representatives have said a portion of the entry fees will be donated to Union Congregational Church on Main Street in Amesbury and Homes For Our Troops charity.
Robinson said yesterday that Amesbury Sports Park will also be making a donation of its own, but she didn’t know the size of the contribution because the financial numbers from the race were still being worked out.
Kezer, who is responsible for authorizing races and other events in the city, said he supports future attractions like The Color Run coming to Amesbury as long as they are within reason and can be managed effectively without causing too much disruption.
He added that he wouldn’t deny an event from coming to Amesbury just because a number of similar events have already been held in a given year. If an event meets all of the city’s criteria and can put forth a workable plan, he will sign off on it, he said.
“There are a lot of people from our own community who have a blast at these things,” Kezer said. “They’re a lot of fun and they’re great events for getting together. For that reason we want to make these things happen.”