- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — There she goes: Miss America is packing up her tiara and leaving the city she’s called home for 84 years.

The famous beauty pageant, a fixture on the Boardwalk since its 1921 start as a bathing beauty revue, announced yesterday it will seek another city in the hope of changing its luck.

The pageant is in perilous financial straits and last year lost its broadcast network TV contract with ABC. It will be entertaining offers immediately, pageant CEO Art McMaster said.

Mr. McMaster surprised the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority yesterday by asking it to release the pageant from the last two years of its five-year contract to stage the annual event in Boardwalk Hall, where Miss Americas have been crowned since 1940.

The board voted 7-0 to release Miss America from the contract binding the pageant to be held at Boardwalk Hall. Officials said they did not see the point in prolonging what Miss America officials said were financial troubles affecting the contest in New Jersey.

“It’s a sad day,” said James Whelan, a board member and former mayor. “We felt we really didn’t have any choice but to grant their request.”

Mr. McMaster, who took over the ailing nonprofit group that runs Miss America in 2004, said the loss of millions of dollars in revenue after being dumped by ABC for low ratings in October had forced the organization’s hand.

He said the pageant could save up to $1 million by moving to a venue in a new city, between reduced telecast production costs and site fees potentially offered by a new location. He insisted that no deal or offer was on the table elsewhere.

Under a TV deal with country music channel CMT that was announced in June, this year’s Miss America pageant was moved from its typical autumn slot to January.

But neither the pageant nor the network said where the next pageant will be held, fueling worries that Atlantic City’s signature event would head for Nashville, Tenn., where CMT is based.

Authority members and residents at the meeting yesterday reacted coolly to the request.

“There’s been too much put into this program by this community through the years to allow you to just walk away,” said Pinky Kravitz, a local radio talk show host who attended the meeting.

Come hurricanes, contestant scandals or poor Nielsen ratings, Miss America was as constant as seagulls, sunburns and saltwater taffy. It was synonymous with Atlantic City.

Volunteers from the community took vacation time each September to work the pageant — escorting contestants from place to place, cooking for them and helping them focus on the crown. For them, yesterday was a day of mourning.

“It’s similar to going through a death,” said former Miss America board member Jayne Bray, 55, who worked as a volunteer or board member for 25 years. “I’m just saddened. September will never be the same in this town.”

Associated Press

Contestants walked along Atlantic City’s seafront in 1921 for the Miss America Beauty Pageant. Margaret Gorman of the District, a 16-year-old marbles champion, won that year. Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall officials voted unanimously yesterday to allow the pageant to relocate in an effort to save it.

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