ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — 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 pre-pageant Boardwalk parade, in which spectators yell out "Show us your shoes!"
The announcement came the same day that another Boardwalk icon, Trump Plaza, was sold to a California company for $20 million, the lowest price ever paid for a casino in the beleaguered resort city. Boosters spun it as a heartening sign that the city was still attractive to investors.
Guadagno said no taxpayer money was part of the incentives offered to lure Miss America 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, is priceless, they added. Cartmell said 6,000 to 7,000 people associated with the pageant will need hotel rooms, meals and other expenditures during their time in Atlantic City.