The Miss America Pageant is coming back home to Atlantic City in 2013, but it may not be the Miss America Pageant of old. In an exclusive interview with Atlantic City Weekly, the organization's CEO Art McMaster says a date for the pageant should be set within a week or so. Are there more changes in store for this year's pageant?
UPDATE: The Miss America Organization office responded to a phone inquiry on Wed., Feb. 27, about a date for the Miss America Pageant in September by saying: "It will be held in September, but we do not have a date to release yet."
ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY — With the sudden announcement last week that the Miss America Pageant and Parade — founded in Atlantic City and held in the resort between 1921-2006 before moving to Las Vegas — is returning to Atlantic City in September, it was time to find out what lies ahead for the “new” Miss America Pageant.
On Tuesday, Feb. 19, the Miss America Organization, stationed in Linwood, Atlantic County, opened its doors to me so I could interview Art McMaster, president and CEO of the organization.
McMaster, who came to the Miss America Organization (MAO) in 1999 as controller, was promoted to vice president of finance in 2000. In 2002, McMaster was elevated to the position of vice president of the organization, responsible for operational and business administration, before assuming his present leadership position on Jan. 1, 2004.
The decision to have the pageant return to Atlantic City was not an easy choice and until the week before Christmas 2012, it was not even a consideration.
“I was at our company Christmas luncheon on Friday, Dec. 21, when my cell phone went off and it was the lieutenant governor and secretary of state of New Jersey Kim Guadagno,” said McMaster. “That is how this move started.
“The lieutenant governor said, ‘Art, I hope you don't mind but I tracked your number down and I understand your contract is up in Las Vegas and you’re getting ready to renew and we would like to compete for that, so before you sign we would like to make an offer if you are OK with that.’”
McMaster, who was caught off guard, said that he replied, “If you look at the calendar, next week is Christmas week and the day after [is] New Year's [and then] we all leave for the pageant, so this is awful fast.” The lieutenant governor then asked if “we were in the office next week and I replied we are for three days,” recalled McMaster. “To which she commented, ‘I'll be there.’”
According to McMaster, it was Dec. 27, 2012, when Guadagno’s car rolled up to the door of the MAO headquarters.
“Sam Haskell [chairman of the MAO board] flew in [from out of state] for the meeting and we sat around with her for an hour or two and talked about the pageant and bringing it back [to Atlantic City],” said McMaster. “At that point we laid it out as to what we thought it would take to bring the pageant back here. We told her, ‘if they would like to submit a proposal we would be open to that.’ We were very honest with her and we said we are happy in Las Vegas, they treat us very well, but at the same time this had been our home and if you would like to submit a proposal then we would consider coming home. And from that point, it just took off.”
When I asked McMaster how the MAO board responded to the idea of returning to AC, McMaster replied, ”You know, like any board, they knew we had an existing contract with Las Vegas who wanted to extend the contract, but at the same time Atlantic City came in with a proposal and the board felt they had a fiduciary responsibility to consider all proposals.”
In addition, McMaster said, “The one thing we and the board were not going to do is leverage one against the other. We were looking at both sites as stand alone proposals. The board really did look at those proposals independently.”
Any pageant the size and the scope of the Miss America Pageant needs the support of the city of Atlantic City and its leaders. When asked if the organization had made any contact with the city leaders McMaster said, “I called Mayor Langford before we made the announcement, but I was told that he was tied up all day in meetings and he would be unable to attend the announcement press conference. He called me a couple of days later and we had a very nice chat.”
Did McMaster and Langford discuss any of the logistics that would be needed to support the return of the pageant? “In that regard, I told Mayor Langford that once we lock in the date in September or we get our preliminary and our parade dates locked in [that] I would like to meet with [him] and [his] staff. The mayor replied, ‘That sounds great, let me know, and we will set up a date or a luncheon or something and we will all get together.’”
Now that the decision has been made for the pageant to return to Atlantic City, what does the organization see as the most important issues that it needs to resolve?
“Well, foremost is locking in the date,” said McMaster. “And then we have to lock in the hotels. The pageant will draw thousands of people from all over the country as we now have 53 contestants. Those thousands of people will be coming to town looking for rooms.”
With regard to when the dates will be locked in, McMaster said, “I think we will have it, if not this week, next week the latest. We will have it locked in by the end of February 2013.”
Much of the success of the Miss America Pageant while it was held in A.C. had a lot to do with the large number of volunteers that participated as members of the Press Committee, hostesses or chaperons and in many other positions.
Does McMaster anticipate reaching out to the volunteers and getting them involved once again?
“The answer to that question about will we need volunteers again, absolutely, positively yes!” said McMaster.
“However, will it be exactly as it was before? I don't think so. I think this will give us an opportunity as it did when we went to Las Vegas to examine and rethink how we did our operation. When we were here we had many groups who had been doing their thing for many years. When we got to Vegas we did not have those groups and we had to start from ground zero. We were in a new city, new venue and [with] new volunteers. I think we learned a lot and I am sure we are going to apply what we learned there to how we operate in Atlantic City. Obviously we will have to adjust how we did business in Las Vegas here in Atlantic City as Atlantic City is so much bigger and, yes, we will need volunteers and we will find a middle of the road between Las Vegas and the way we used to do business in A.C.”
I then asked McMaster about casino support.
“Have you had any contact with any of the casinos to get a feel for where they stand?” I asked.
“I have not had any contact with any of the casinos,” McMaster replied. “Remember, this just happened last week and honestly everything is down to Elizabeth Cartmell, president and CEO of the Atlantic City Alliance and John Palmieri, director of the CRDA.”
Along the same lines, in past Atlantic City Miss America pageants contestants were housed throughout the city with five contestants at each casino. When the pageant moved to Vegas they were able to house all the contestants in one casino, one location. McMaster was quick to address that situation. “I don't think we will be able to house them all in one hotel,” he said. “In talking with Elizabeth Cartmell, we are not going to go back to the old way, which took many volunteers. We don't know what that ultimate number is, but fewer is better.”
“At that moment I was completely shocked and overwhelmed,” she says. “I thought they had made a mistake. I believe I said, ‘Oh my God’ and ‘thank you.’”
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