ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Miss America, Atlantic City's prodigal pageant, is coming home, and the spectacle that became synonymous with the New Jersey seaside resort is being assured all is forgiven after a six-year fling in Las Vegas.
The pageant will be back where it started 93 years ago and where it was a fixture until 2006, when organizers moved to Nevada in the hopes of attracting a younger TV audience.
"It was always my dream that this would return here," said Art McMaster, president and CEO of the Miss America organization. "Sadly, this organization went west for a while. That sadness is over. We are back to the city where the Miss America pageant began, where the Miss America pageant was raised, and where the Miss America pageant belongs."
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who worked with Gov. Chris Christie's office to entice the pageant, said having Miss America anywhere but Atlantic City just felt wrong.
"Can anyone separate the Mummer's Parade from Philadelphia, or the Rose Bowl from Pasadena?" he asked. "Miss America is Atlantic City, and she's coming home."
New Jersey's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, made the official announcement Thursday morning inside Boardwalk Hall, the historic arena in which the pageant will take place during yet-undetermined dates in September. She said Atlantic City and the pageant have a handshake agreement to move back here for at least three years, but said final details have yet to be ironed out.
One thing is for sure, though: The contestants will don elaborate footwear and participate in the traditional prepageant Boardwalk parade, in which spectators yell, "Show us your shoes!"
Guadagno said no taxpayer money was part of the incentives offered to lure the pageant back to New Jersey. Liza Cartmell, president of the Atlantic City Alliance, said her casino-funded group is among those providing financial incentives, but would not say how much it might contribute. She said individual casinos are contributing as well, and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority could use some of the funds casinos are obligated to pay to it for Miss America-related purposes.
Guadagno and Cartmell said the return of the pageant is expected to generate at least $30 million in economic activity for Atlantic City and the surrounding region. But the psychological boost, and the free publicity of having the national broadcast set in Atlantic City, are priceless, they added. Cartmell said 6,000 to 7,000 people associated with the pageant will need hotel rooms, meals and other things during their time in Atlantic City.
The Miss America pageant left Atlantic City in 2006 after deciding it was just too expensive to stage its production there. It went to Las Vegas, where the current Miss America, Mallory Hagan, was crowned last month at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. She will have her reign cut short when the pageant is broadcast in September, but will be paid for the full year, pageant officials said.
"It was always my dream that this would return here."
president and CEO of the Miss America organization