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Beauty pageant coming to St. Petersburg

Miss Florida contestants will arrive Sunday, and the winner will be crowned Saturday. The city may become the pageant's permanent home.

Published June 21, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - For 65 years, the crowning of Miss Florida took place in Orlando. Next week, the pageant moves to the Mahaffey Theater at the Bayfront Center, and pageant officials hope to make this its permanent home for years to come.

Forty-two pageant contestants will arrive Sunday for a week of rehearsals, interviews and appearances, as well as talent, swimsuit and evening wear competitions. Miss Florida 2003 will be crowned during a gala and awards ceremony Saturday night and receive a $12,000 cash scholarship. She will also advance to the Miss America pageant in September.

"It's a perfect backdrop for our pageant," said Mary Sullivan, executive director and president of the Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant. "And we liked the fact that the city is very compact and seems safe. It seems like an environment where we wanted to put our contestants. We wanted a location where we felt like it could be our pageant home. We don't want to move from year to year."

The contestants will make their first public appearance at 4 p.m. Sunday on the fifth floor of the Pier at Cha Cha Coconuts Tropical Bar & Grill.

They range in age from 17 to 23 and are winners of local and regional pageants, such as Miss Pasco County Fair, Miss Largo, Miss Pinellas County, Miss Miami and Miss Florida State University.

On Monday and Tuesday, the contestants will participate in private 12 minute-interviews with the five judges. The preliminary evening gown, talent and swimsuit (also known as lifestyle and fitness) competitions start Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Orlando was home to the Miss Florida pageant until two years ago, when Sullivan took over as pageant director. She moved it to her hometown, Miami, for a year. But Sullivan said she wanted a more central location for the contestants.

The pageant will pay the Mahaffey Theater about $23,000 for the use of it next week.

A combined $42,200 in cash scholarships will be handed out, and a total of $800,000 in tuition scholarships will be offered to contestants.

"We're really excited because it brings in people from all over the state," said Jacqulyn Schuett, the city's event marketing manager. "So it does give exposure of our city to all the candidates and the families that come with them and the pageant directors from around the state."

If you go

Miss Florida pageant, Wednesday through Saturday at the Mahaffey Theater at the Bayfront Center in St. Petersburg.

Tickets are $15 for Wednesday and Thursday, $30 for Friday and $45 for Saturday's finals. They can be obtained through Ticketmaster or at the Mahaffey Theater box office on First Street S between Fourth and Fifth avenues S. The box office is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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