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 Thursday that it would seek another city in hopes of changing its luck.
The pageant is in financial straits and last year lost its broadcast network TV contract with ABC. It will be entertaining offers immediately, pageant CEO Art McMaster said.
McMaster surprised the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority on Thursday 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 to 0 to release the pageant from its contract, saying it did not see the point in prolonging what Miss America officials said were money woes affecting the contest in New Jersey.
"It's a sad day," said James Whelan, a board member and former mayor.
McMaster, who last year took over the ailing nonprofit group that runs Miss America, said the loss of millions in revenue after being dumped by ABC because of low ratings last 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 autumn slot to January. But neither the pageant nor the network said where the next pageant would be held, fueling speculation that Atlantic City's signature event would head to Nashville, where CMT is headquartered.
Come hurricanes, contestant scandals or poor Nielsen ratings, Miss America was as constant as sea gulls, 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, Thursday 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."
But former pageant CEO Leonard Horn said the decision was a good one if it helps keep Miss America alive.
"They have no allegiance to Atlantic City whatsoever, other than nostalgia, and that doesn't pay the bills," said Horn, who retired in 1998. "The Miss America pageant has to do what it thinks best serves its interests, and if moving out of Atlantic City does, that's what it should do."