A prestigious beauty pageant that has called Columbus home for all of its 74 years is now apparently exploring better options elsewhere heading into this summer’s event, although a flurry of meetings aimed at keeping it here are now under way.
The Miss Georgia Pageant, first held in Columbus as World War II raged overseas in 1944, hasn’t said if it will or if it won’t have its contestants crossing a local stage in 2019.
Trina Pruitt, board chair of the Miss Georgia Scholarship Competition, said in a recent pageant release that conversations she has had with the Miss America Organization have put her “at ease,” though she did not go into specifics about what was said. She also did not respond to requests for comment Monday and Tuesday.
“Due to the state licensee changes in connection with the Miss America Organization, our efforts to make contact were difficult at first,” she said. “But we did hear from Columbus and have had initial discussions. Now, the path has been cleared.”
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Pruitt’s reference was to Atlantic City, N.J.-based Miss America Organization revoking the licenses of the Georgia pageant, as well as other states including Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. That came after state directors’ reportedly criticized Miss America leadership last year, part of which included a decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition.
The former boards of the pageants in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia also have filed suit against the Miss America Organization, a case that is still working its way through Atlantic County Superior Court in New Jersey, according to The Press of Atlantic City.
Now the path to holding the Miss Georgia competition in Columbus, however, includes an upcoming site visit during which pageant officials will visit local facilities to determine if they are suitable. Miss Georgia has taken place at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the city’s crown jewel performance hall, since 2002.
Before that, it was held for many years at Three Arts Theatre on Talbotton Road, a former movie house converted into a live-performance venue that even then was rough around the edges. It gave way to the new RiverCenter, with its elegant ambiance, top-notch acoustics and a downtown location that has restaurants and other amenities.
Pruitt, a Troup County teacher who replaced former board chair Mansfield Bias, said she is hopeful that Columbus will be chosen as the site for the 75th edition of the Miss Georgia Pageant. The event is scheduled for June 15, with the city’s convention and visitors bureau estimating its economic impact at $271,375.
“The young women in the competition deserve this as an option,” Pruitt said. “As they win their local competitions, we know it is with the hope of competing at the RiverCenter in Columbus.”
Reynolds Bickerstaff, board chairman of Uptown Columbus Inc., said Tuesday the Miss Georgia Pageant has a major economic impact on the community as a whole, but specifically on downtown and its businesses.
Aside from the hotels and restaurants, he said, the energy includes various activities such as rafting trips, a pajama run down Broadway, and vehicle caravans sponsored by local auto dealers. The contestants also typically visit children at Columbus hospitals while they are here during the days leading up to the event, which has preliminary competitions before the main event on June 15.
He said it would be “very sad” for the pageant not to continue this year in Columbus, but has faith that the committee now negotiating its future can work things out and keep it here for its 75th anniversary.
“I understand it’s had a very long run in Columbus, and I can see how other cities would want to host it, but Columbus is such a convenient location for an event like this because everything is accessible,” he said. “There’s barely any traffic, there’s plenty of hotel rooms, there are lots of activities for all of the candidates and their families. This community has welcomed that event for so long, I just can’t imagine why they wouldn’t host it in Columbus again.”