It started in 1921, when Margaret Gorman was crowned Miss America on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. Nearly 95 years later, the relationship between Atlantic City and Miss America is still going strong, despite a brief breakup when she packed her bags and moved to Las Vegas for eight years.
Now the two are taking their relationship to the next level: Miss America has moved its office into Atlantic City.
Miss America herself, Kira Kazantsev, cut the red ribbon Wednesday outside the Claridge Hotel to celebrate the Miss America Organization’s new national office at the hotel. The corporate office previously had been located in Linwood.
Negotiations for a new contract between the Miss America Organization and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority are ongoing. The current contract expires this year.
But Wednesday’s event was a sign that even with Atlantic City’s challenges, there is still a desire to keep the pageant in the city where it was born. The word “home” was used to describe Atlantic City by nearly every speaker at the ceremony.
“As we look for a vision of a better Atlantic City, you build on your past. You want to keep what was great,” Mayor Don Guardian said. “Certainly the home of Miss America is something that Atlantic City is known for.”
Miss America’s history is deeply rooted in Atlantic City and can be seen throughout the resort. There is the Miss America statue of the Boardwalk, which crowns tourists and beachgoers outside Boardwalk Hall.
There’s the Sheraton Atlantic City Hotel, a former home of Miss America Organization’s office, which has 478 historical photos displayed in its guest rooms and 29 contestants’ actual shoes from the Miss America Shoe Parade displayed in its “Shoe Bar.” The gown Kazantsev wore is also in the hotel.
“We have a great relationship with Miss America. They’ve been a great partner of ours since the hotel came in,” said Jeff Albrecht, general manager at Sheraton Atlantic City. “We are almost their de facto museum with all the memorabilia and artifacts you’ll see here. So we love them, and we hope they’re here forever and ever.”
Sam Haskell, executive chairman of Miss America Organization, also hopes the pageant stays here.
“While negotiations continue, it is my hope we stay in Atlantic City,” Haskell said.
The city, and state, hope so, too.
“This city has a future. It has a better future today than it did last year. It has hope, and Miss America is a vital, critical part of that,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who attended the ribbon-cutting and is credited with helping bring the pageant back to Atlantic City in 2013. “So we will continue to fight to convince Miss America that Miss America and the competition should stay here.”
Guadagno said the pageant’s return to Atlantic City in 2013 was a “morale booster” for a state suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
For a city still reeling from the impact of four casino closings, keeping Miss America in Atlantic City could raise spirits.
“The Miss America Competition’s live telecast on ABC proudly shows the nation all of the wonderful sights and experiences Atlantic City has to offer,” said Josh Randle, chief operating officer of the Miss America Organization.
Randle said an independent study contracted by the CRDA in 2013 projected that the pageant and its associated events generate about $45.8 million in economic activity in the city, with more than $32.2 million of direct spending by its attendees, creating 559 jobs and $12 million in earnings.
Miss America Organization officials meet with CRDA officials this week as negotiations continue. The Miss America Competition was lured back to its Atlantic City birthplace with promises of a $7.3 million state subsidy package through 2015.
A contract extension for Miss America is likely to be complicated by a new five-bill package designed to stabilize Atlantic City’s finances. A key part of the plan will divert $25 to $30 million in CRDA funding each year to the city to help pay off municipal debt. Gov. Chris Christie still must sign it into law.
Randle said in an email this month that the possibility of the pageant moving if a deal cannot be reached “is not part of that discussion” so far.
Asked about the length of the lease at the Claridge for its office space, Randle said it was an “indefinite arrangement.”
The office features portraits of previous Miss Americas and a replica crown, among other memorabilia. There are staff offices, a conference space and a long line of filing cabinets along a narrow hallway.
Guardian said he loves the concept of Miss America being in the iconic Claridge, which he said “was a symbol of what was right about the city in 1930.”
“During tough times of the Depression, the Claridge has indeed made it and stays open today,” he said. “So let’s think of the tough times that we are going through in Atlantic City now, and having Miss America back is part of our future, as well.”