How oddly appropriate that the announcement of the Miss America Pageant's return to Atlantic City came on Valentine's Day.

Like a jilted lover who can't quite get over his ex, the city has never really stopped pining for the pageant. Atlantic City loves its history, and the pageant, which started as the Inter-City Beauty Contest in 1921, a promotion to bring visitors to the resort after Labor Day, is a big part of that history.

Over the years, Miss America and its attendant parade drew crowds and stars - Marilyn Monroe was the parade's grand marshal in 1952 - and became not just a nationally known event, but a hit television show as well.

In the dark years of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the resort was losing summer visitors and its grand hotels were beginning to crumble, the pageant remained an annual bright spot.

But, as the Bard might say, the course of true love can be as bumpy as a rolling chair with a bad wheel. By the time Atlantic City became the legalized gambling capital of the east in 1978, the relevancy of beauty pageants was being seriously questioned. Miss America officials struggled to market an event that gave away thousands of dollars in scholarships but was primarily known for having contestants parade in high heels and swimsuits.

The pageant changed hosts and formats as television ratings continued to slip. It lost its contract with ABC in 2004, and moved to the cable channel CMT, which changed the broadcast from September to January. In 2005, drawn west by a glitzier suitor and the promise of a more lucrative production deal, the pageant moved to Las Vegas, ending its 84-year association with Atlantic City.

At the time, we were saddened but philosophic. The pageant and the new Atlantic City no longer seemed a natural fit.

But Miss America has always been more than a television show. Many local families had ties to the pageant as volunteers and chaperones for contestants. Reminders of the pageant were as close as the statue of longtime host Bert Parks in front of the Sheraton Atlantic City Convention Center Hotel.

We won't gloat about the fact that the pageant has now had second thoughts and wants Atlantic City back. And we're not sure whether this is a permanent reunion or just a seven-year itch. When Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced the pageant's return at Boardwalk Hall Thursday, she said there was a handshake agreement for at least three years.

Miss America returns to a more mature city, wiser from the lessons taught by increased competition and quicker to try new things - or even to retry some old things. The need for reinvention is something the city and the pageant have in common.

As they both search for a way forward in a changing world, Atlantic City can certainly use the boost Miss America is likely to bring. And the pageant can benefit from the warm embrace of an old friend.

So it seems this reunion could be attributed to the usual realization that brings lovers back together - they need each other.

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