Miss America is coming home.
After an eight-year hiatus, the Miss America Pageant will return to the resort next year, renewing the relationship the iconic beauty contest had with Atlantic City for 84 years.
Officials made the official announcement about the multi-year agreement this morning at Boardwalk Hall. The pageant will take place in September, although the exact dates have not been finalized.
The Miss America Organization has reached an agreement "to bring our beloved tradition back to its home where it first began on the sandy beach of Atlantic City in 1921," said Miss America pageant President/CEO Art McMaster and board chairman Sam Haskell III in a letter sent to state executive directors.
"We are so thrilled to bring Miss America back to her home in Atlantic City," Haskell said. "Throughout the decades, Miss America has evolved into an incredible organization because of your efforts and those of your volunteers who have remained committed to supporting our organization which enables over 12,000 young women every year to enter and participate in this outstanding scholarship program. Today, Miss America remains an iconic symbol and our roots have always been connected to our history in Atlantic City. This proud heritage, so rich in history is now our future as we prepare for the most exciting television event ever for Miss America with the support of your organization and our network partner, ABC. We will also be announcing a new 3 year deal with our network broadcast partner, ABC. The return to Atlantic City will allow us to showcase our beloved Miss America event in the destination where it all began."
McMaster added: "We are truly grateful to the Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie and the Lt. Governor, Kim Guadagno who along with the local agencies in Atlantic City came together to create a mutually beneficial partnership to welcome Miss America back. This is a monumental milestone for our organization to return to the Jersey shore and prepare for the next chapter in our organization’s history. As we depart Las Vegas, we sincerely thank our friends at Planet Hollywood who have hosted us for the last eight years. In addition, we thank the City of Las Vegas, who has helped us achieve the best television ratings in eight years. As we now look to the future and bring Miss America home … we are excited to begin a new era with Atlantic City and our beloved tradition."
Prior to today, little had been released about the specifics of the deal that will bring the pageant back to the resort. The Miss America Organization asked to be freed of its contract with the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority in 2005, saying it was too expensive to host the contest at Boardwalk Hall, a venue still plagued by high labor costs.
At that time, it cost more than $1 million to put on the show, with the ACCVA subsidizing $720,000. Heated discussion ensued, and the pageant eventually left for Las Vegas after the ACCVA released the organization from its contract.
Still, signs of the pageant’s long-standing ties with the resort remain. The organization remains headquartered nearby in Linwood. Walls of the White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City are still covered with photos of past Miss America winners, and residents remember when the contestants could be seen walking the Boardwalk and taking rides in rolling chairs in the two weeks of activities leading up to the main event.
The pageant was literally made part of the city's fabric in 1997 when the Miss America Rose Walk was constructed on Michigan Avenue with plaques paying tribute to past winners
Much has changed in Atlantic City since Miss America last took her crowning walk at the shore. Seeking to diversify from the struggling casino industry, officials have placed an increased focus on nongambling attractions in the city since Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation creating the Atlantic City Tourism District in 2011.
“This is absolutely where the pageant belongs,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic. “It looks as though because of the changes in Atlantic City under the governor’s implementation of the Tourism District, pageant representatives see the potential of Atlantic City and are ready to come back. It’s a huge win.”
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said bringing the pageant back to Atlantic City will go a long way in showcasing the resort as a destination.
“Miss America played such a huge part of us being known as America’s Playground in the ’50s and ’60s. I welcome it back,” Amodeo said. “This is just another piece of the puzzle in the governor’s plan for Atlantic City.”
Mayor Lorenzo Langford could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
State Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, who was on the ACCVA board when the organization asked to be released from its contract, said bringing the pageant back can only bolster the city’s image.
“It’s something that was nurtured here and grew into a national institution here,” the former Atlantic City mayor said. “It’s national publicity. You get your 15 seconds of fame live in Atlantic City.”
With the exception of a few years in the 1920s, Miss America was held in Atlantic City each year through 2005. Originally conceived as a gimmick to keep visitors at the shore after Labor Day, the Atlantic City pageants were traditionally held in September, but organizers bumped up the contest to January with the move to Las Vegas. It’s not yet known when the 2014 contest will be held.
The Miss America Organization reached the end of its contract with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and Planet Hollywood this year with the pageant that aired in January, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Prior to its departure from Atlantic City, television ratings had become problematic for the pageant. ABC dropped the contest in 2004 after it garnered a record-low average of of 9.7 million viewers. Cable networks Country Music Television and TLC both took turns hosting the event, but it returned to ABC in 2011, where it has remained.
Neilsen ratings for the 2013 pageant show that the contest attracted 7 million viewers, coming in second only to a football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
The next pageant will take place in about eight months.
"Although two pageants in one year may be a challenge, we are confident that as a family we can all work together to create one of the most memorable events in our pageant’s history," Haskell and McMaster told the state executive directors.
Jennifer Bogdan - The Press of Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J. (MCT) Staff Writer Hoa Nguyen contributed to this report. The Norwalk Reflector staff also contributed to this story.
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