Rolling chair operators move though the crowds on the Boardwalk in in front of Boardwalk Hall on the first night of the Miss America preliminaries in Atlantic City.

Ben Fogletto

Miss America paraphernalia festoons Atlantic City, from billboards to shop windows, but the competition is just one of several events promising to make this weekend one of the biggest of the shoulder season.

Authorities race to prepare the city and its Boardwalk for the national spotlight. Businesses optimistically await an estimated 200,000 visitors. And locals look forward to the return of the "Show Us Your Shoes" parade.

But February's announcement of a returning Miss America presented a serious question for event planners: Would the 92-year-old institution deflate their previously planned outings or increase their reach?

Most wagered on the latter.

"It's Seafood Festival weekend," said Jon Henderson. "Miss America just happens to be on the same one."

Originally based out of Gardner's Basin, the Atlantic City Seafood Festival was resurrected last year at Bader Field by Henderson's Good Time Tricycle Productions. It already had the weekend booked when Miss America announced its return after an eight-year sabbatical in Las Vegas.

"We didn't know planning the weekend three years ago that Miss America would be coming back," he said. "But it didn't upset us, either, because here's a great opportunity to showcase Atlantic City on a larger scale."

Instead of competing with each other, Henderson said the backers of the festival, the Miss America competition and Sunday's Atlantic City International Triathlon - also centered on Bader Field - worked in tandem. Their promotional materials and social media refer to one another.

"We worked together for programming so each one of our customers knew what events were going on in both sides of the city," Henderson said.

Meanwhile, the events were timed to avoid overlap.

On Sunday, for instance, the triathlon will kick off about 6 a.m. The festival will open its gates just as the race ends at 10 a.m. And the Miss America pre-show activities are scheduled to begin 8 p.m. with a live telecast on ABC at 9 p.m.

"It's almost a sense of 'the more the merrier,'" said Kim Butler, spokeswoman for the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which promotes economic development in the resort.

With so much attention on the city this weekend, Butler said the hope of the CRDA and other agencies, such as the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, is that this weekend will help draw more people to the resort year-round.

"We think it's an iconic event for Atlantic City and will continue to be," she said. "To the extent we can build on other events and give people more reasons to come - that achieves the goal."

Stephen Del Monte, race director for the triathlon, said the event has drawn the same number of participants - about 1,000 - this year as last, although it's likely to draw more spectators.

"Moving it to the bay and operating it with the seafood festival, we'll be showing people the beautiful Atlantic City skyline," he said. "Where we are now and where we are in a year or two from now is totally different."

The triathlon includes a swim along the back bay adjacent to Bader Field, a run along the Boardwalk and a bicycle ride down the Atlantic City Expressway and through part of the city. Del Monte, whose Delmo Sports organized the event, said the righthand lane of the expressway will be closed from 6 to 10 a.m., along with partial closings of Albany Avenue and the Black Horse Pike.

"If you normally cross town at that point in the day, you may want to have an alternative route," he said. "Everything else takes place early in the morning and will not affect (other events)."

In another piece of coordination, Del Monte said the triathlon award ceremony will be held during the seafood festival, which is free to the public due to a $25,000 grant from the CRDA.

Henderson said jitneys will be on hand to ferry festival and triathlon visitors back and forth between Bader Field and the Boardwalk until 9 p.m., when the festival gates close.

Last year, the festival attracted about 10,000 visitors. This year, with the combination of free admittance and more people in town for Miss America, he expects that figure to double or triple.

Butler said this weekend's big events are part of a larger push for off-season activities, including last week's art show and volleyball tournament.

"What you're starting to see is everyone being able to benefit from the partnership with the alliance and the CRDA," she said. "It's a public-private partnership that's gaining traction. Instead of competing, what we're doing is complementing."

Outside Atlantic City, this weekend also marks the annual New Jersey Firemen's Convention in Wildwood, with a parade down New Jersey Avenue on Saturday.

Next weekend will see the return of Miss'd America, a female-impersonator contest that began as an off-shoot of Miss America in 1993. The pageant is scheduled for Sept. 21 at the House of Blues in Showboat Casino Hotel.

Contact Wallace McKelvey:


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