City’s hike in pageant funds seen as important insurance|[05/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tighter times mean more Vicksburg funds will be donated to this year’s Miss Mississippi Pageant, but South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said the money should be viewed as an investment and that keeping the production here is important.

“We normally rely on outside business contributions and pages that the contestants sell,” said Miss Mississippi Corporation chairman Dr. Briggs Hopson. “This year, because of the economy, we were literally down $40,000 or $50,000.”

Vicksburg will make up $12,000 of the shortfall, with officials voting to increase the city’s allocation from $23,000 last year to $35,000 for the competition next month at the Vicksburg Convention Center.

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Revenue to stage the pageant, a franchise of the Miss America corporation, comes from contestants’ ‘There are a number of cities in Mississippi that want to take the pageant.’DR. BRIGGS HOPSONMISS MISSISSIPPICorporation chairmanselling of full-page ads, called salute pages, in a pageant program book, from corporate and individual sponsorships and from ticket sales.

Though much of the labor is volunteer, it costs about $150,000 to produce the televised show, said executive director David Blackledge. The organization is also a national pacesetter in awarding scholarships and was the first state pageant to award money for tuition to every contestant.

“There are a number of cities in Mississippi that want to take the pageant,” Hopson said. “I hope people in this community understand that we are striving to keep it here. The pageant promotes Vicksburg, and that’s one of the reasons we asked the city for more money.”

Vicksburg has played host to the pageant since 1958, meaning this year’s June 24-28 competition is the 51st year.

“I can’t tell you in dollar amounts, but it means a lot,” Beauman said of the economic impact. “It basically fills up every hotel in Vicksburg. It’s huge for us and we want to keep it as long as we can.”

Vicksburg shares in state sales taxes collected on meals and hotel room rentals. The city imposes a 2 percent bed tax on rooms rented by the night and the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau receives a 1 percent tax added to restaurant, bar and hotel sales.

In 2007, the pageant offered $127,300 in cash scholarships and $539,092 in in-kind scholarships. Hopson said that, despite the decrease in funding, each contestant will still receive a scholarship, though it may be smaller than last year. “We have always led the nation,” he said.

Festivities in Vicksburg include a parade, contestants signing autographs, three nights of preliminary competition on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and a final televised competition and crowning, shown statewide on Saturday night. This year, a riverfront mural depicting the pageant will be unveiled on Friday night.

Contestants will be housed again at the former All Saints’ Episcopal School, which was closed two years ago, but meals will be brought in instead of being prepared on-site, Hopson said.

In total, 45 contestants will be competing for the state title this year, down two contestants from last year. There is no Miss Vicksburg because no local pagent was held.

Ticket prices remain at $100 for the four nights of competition and crowning. Interest in tickets remains similar to previous years, Hopson said.