In Atlantic City, fans cheer Miss America’s return

Posted: February 15, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - Ellen Cohen has resigned herself to the fact that she may never know precisely why the Miss America Pageant packed up like a scorned girlfriend seven years ago and left town for Las Vegas.

She's just glad - make that ecstatic - that the high priestess of pageants is hightailing it home come September, at least for three years, according to the official announcement Thursday from state and pageant officials.

The Miss America Pageant is expected to bring in tens of thousands of visitors and create as much as $30 million in revenue for the region, officials said.

Back also will be the Boardwalk parade and other fanfare for the week leading up to the pageant. The final night of competition will be broadcast live on ABC, bringing "priceless positive exposure" to a resort desperate to put its best face forward following Hurricane Sandy and years of a floundering casino economy.

Officials in 2006 said faltering financial support and sagging TV ratings prompted the move to Vegas, where the pageant hoped to attract younger viewers.

"I'm so excited . . . I'm almost crying," said Cohen, of Longport, a longtime volunteer for the Miss America Organization who once chaperoned contestants during their weeklong run-up to the crowning.

"It's ridiculous that Miss America ever left Atlantic City in the first place. ... This is her home," said Cohen, recalling the heady days when the pageant's "show-us-your-shoes" glamour graced the city.

"It was always my dream that this would return here. . . . I'm from here," said Art McMaster, president and chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization. "The pageant belongs here."

Like much about the tradition-shrouded pageant, which began in 1921 as a little beauty contest aimed at getting summer tourists to linger a bit longer, details are still murky about how the Miss America board of directors was persuaded to return.

The multimillion-dollar organization now annually provides the opportunity for more than 12,000 young women across the country to vie for hundreds of thousands of dollars in college scholarship money.

"We love the casinos in Atlantic City, but we love to make Atlantic City more of a destination for everyone, and this is clearly the next step in the 'Do AC' marketing program that will make it possible for everyone to want to come to Atlantic City," said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

She announced the return inside the cavernous Boardwalk Hall, where the famed pageant was held for decades before it was whisked off to Vegas.

Guadagno did not provide details of the deal that brought the pageant back. Precise numbers are still being worked out, she said, as are dates for the parade and the pageant.

New Jersey officials, apparently aware that a contract to hold the annual contest in Las Vegas expired this year, contacted the pageant about four months ago and began talks, Guadagno said.

While Guadagno insisted that the agreement would not directly cost taxpayers any money, the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Authority, the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority, and the Atlantic City Alliance will provide "financial incentives" to the pageant organization to return from Las Vegas, where production and other costs were significantly lower.

The return will likely be a big economic boon for the region, said Liza Cartmell, president of the casino-funded Atlantic City Alliance, which does marketing. About 7,000 people directly associated with the pageant need hotel rooms, dine in local restaurants, visit attractions, and shop while they are here, she said.

"Atlantic City is really going to have the opportunity to showcase itself to people who already have a strong historical connection but who will also have a chance to experience the current appeal and relevance of the place. This is going to be a great opportunity for a lot of national exposure," Cartmell said.

Holding the pageant anyplace but Atlantic City was just wrong, said Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who worked with the Governor's Office to get the pageant back to the East Coast.

"Can anyone separate the Mummers Parade from Philadelphia or the Rose Bowl from Pasadena?" Levinson asked during the news conference. "Miss America is Atlantic City . . . and she's coming home."

Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo at 609-652-8382 or Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.


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