LEWISTON — It would begin with a large statue of Muhammad Ali, placed in a newly landscaped park off Main Street alongside the canal.

Then, visitors would make their way through the Bates Mill Enterprise Complex, where every few hundred feet they would see a sculpture or installation from one of a series of artists.

That’s the vision of local artist Charlie Hewitt and developer Tom Platz, who have big plans for creating an art trail to attract new visitors – and more momentum – to downtown Lewiston.

As they walked the area Wednesday, they pointed out locations where sculptures could be placed, starting with Ali, roaring over his felled opponent in the 1965 knockout fight with Sonny Liston in Lewiston, as the anchor piece.

There’s space next to Hewitt’s existing “rattle” piece at the entrance to TD Bank at Mill No. 3. Perhaps another piece could go near Fish Bones American Grill at Mill No. 6, or at the fountain plaza near DaVinci’s Eatery and outside the new Baxter Brewing Co.

Hewitt believes a successful art trail, starting with the Ali sculpture, could change the perception of Lewiston, especially as more people see how the public art coincides with some of Lewiston’s best culinary options.

“That would switch the gears,” he said. “It’s all about perception.”

Already on board to create the Ali piece is Hewitt’s colleague Zenos Frudakis, who creates figurative bronze statues such as one of boxer James Braddock (also known as the Cinderella Man) that was erected this week in New Jersey.

Ali, who transcended sports to become one of the most prominent figures of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, made a permanent mark on Lewiston when he knocked out Sonny Liston in the first round of their 1965 championship rematch at what is now the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

That moment, and Ali’s charisma, are embedded in Lewiston’s history, Hewitt said.

Three years ago, when the city celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Ali-Liston fight, boxing fans began randomly showing up at the Colisee to see where it took place. That same fanfare could come to the sculpture.

At a City Council workshop to discuss the art trail idea in early September, Councilor Jim Lysen said boxing was always part of the culture in Lewiston.

“It’s sort of part of the working-class element,” he said. “People would want to come see it.”

Platz is planning to roll out a fundraising effort for the $250,000 Ali statue, and is hoping Frudakis could have it ready for installation in the spring of 2019.

Hewitt said it would be 12 feet tall, with a 4-foot-tall base.

“Just his name is a huge draw,” he said of Ali. “But at 16 feet, it would be one of the largest sculptural pieces in the state.”

Hewitt said Ali would also represent the Muslim and immigrant community in Lewiston. The Liston bout in 1965 was the first time Ali fought under that name after changing it from Cassius Clay and converting to Islam in 1964.

Platz, who is redeveloping the Bates Mill site, said he’d eventually like to see the art trail extend outside the mill property, hopefully down to Simard-Payne Memorial Park and the new Museum L-A or up to Lisbon Street.

The trail would include the recently completed mural on Pine Street by artist Arlin Graff.

“It would be nice if someone could enter at any one sculpture and do a loop,” Platz said.

Over the past 12 years, Platz has developed 490,000 square feet of the Bates Mill Complex. Mill 6, which houses Fish Bones American Grill among other businesses, is full. Mills 3 and 7, which house TD Bank, are full.

The Mill 2 wing and storehouse are full with tenants such as DaVinci’s Eatery. Mill 2 proper, home to the Lofts at Bates Mill, has 60,000 square feet left to be developed.

Mill 1, with Museum L-A, has 150,000 square feet left. And Platz continues to actively seek tenants for Mill 5.

As the city clears debris from the canals, the men also see the potential for works of art using the water, which could be lit at night.

Hewitt and Platz already have a slate of artists they’d like to work with, some working in Maine, some nationally.

He said tourists now “drive right past” Lewiston to visit the art museums at Colby College or in Rockland, but that a nationally recognized sculpture park could change that. While here, people could also get a taste of the local food – and the craft beer.

“Once they got here, this town would be identified by a different kind of eyes,” he said.

At the earlier council workshop, Platz told city officials he’s not looking for city funds, only support. The city recently extended its option agreement with Platz by three years for the purchase of Bates Mill No. 5, the last and largest of the mill buildings to be redeveloped.

Platz said he’s hopeful the building would be redeveloped as the art trail comes together, but for now, he only needs the tip of land on the corner of Main and Canal streets to begin the Ali project.

“(The trail) would be unique to Lewiston,” said Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development.

Platz said if the art trail idea gains steam, he envisions an annual competition in which winning artists would have their sculptures placed on a series of pedestals or locations set aside for the competition each year.

During the walk through the mill complex Wednesday, Hewitt and Platz bounced more ideas off each other. They were still coming up with ways that public art could be incorporated into the former mills.

Maybe something could be suspended in the air between two buildings. Perhaps another plaza entrance could be transformed with landscaping and another sculpture.

“It’s a fabulous blank canvas to work with,” Hewitt said of the Bates Mill property.

Hewitt said he could do a new sculpture himself.

“I’ve been working with neon. I’d be zapping this place up,” he said.

Andrew Rice can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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