Baltimore has scored another date with Miss USA. The internationally televised beauty pageant will be held here in the spring for the second year in a row, competition officials said yesterday.

Tourism officials cheered the decision, which was to be announced at a news conference today, saying pageant guests spent $2 million to $3 million in the state this year and that the broadcast provided about $6.5 million in free advertising as the contestants were shown frolicking at the Inner Harbor, Annapolis and elsewhere.

"We thought, `Gosh, now that we've done it once, think how much better we'll do it this time,'" said Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, the pageant's parent company. Shugart was to join city and state officials this morning at 1st Mariner Arena to announce that the contest will be broadcast from there April 21.

Pageant officials were undeterred by the rating for this year's broadcast, which plunged lower than some contestants' necklines.

The pageant - which is co-owned by NBC and Donald Trump - typically changes location each year, and next year was open to bids from other cities. But Baltimore was so thoroughly wowed by its first rendezvous with Miss USA that the wooing began minutes after the 2005 competition ended, at the VIP coronation ball.

Dennis Castleman, the state's assistant secretary of tourism, film and the arts, handed Shugart a letter stating the city's intentions to win Miss USA back.

Now, Castleman said, "We're really excited."

So, reportedly, is NBC, which Shugart said praised the city's "metropolitan, cosmopolitan look."

Next year, the competition is moving to the arena from this year's spot at the Hippodrome, which organizers said wasn't big enough. The broadcast will showcase different parts of Maryland, and - for three weeks leading up to the competition - the beauties will be installed at the Wyndham Baltimore-Inner Harbor hotel. This year, they stayed at a Sheraton in Columbia because the city was unable to find housing.

The timing will be different, too. The show will air on a Friday night, which means a smaller available audience but possibly weaker competition from other shows. On a Monday evening this year, it was pitted against the hit program CSI: Miami.

It's also being broadcast about a week and a half later than this year's pageant, a delay that Shugart hopes will translate into warmer weather. Gray skies and a cold snap had wreaked havoc on filming this year, she said.

The Baltimore 2005 pageant attracted about 8.1 million viewers, compared with 13 million the previous year, NBC said. That number approached the 55-year-old pageant's 7.6 million low in 2002, which led its former network, CBS, to drop the show.

In Baltimore, though, the 2005 show did quite well, snagging about 14 percent of households, a 71 percent increase over 2004.

And the show returned the compliment, airing about 10 1/2 minutes of locally shot footage of beauty queens in locations such as Fort McHenry and the Ocean City boardwalk - exposure worth an estimated $6.5 million, Castleman said.

Whether the ratings fell or not, "I gotta tell you that 8 million viewers is a good number," said Castleman. And he said that number doesn't count the people in about 100 other countries who watch the show. Maryland will get a minimum of nine minutes of airtime this year.

This year's pageant cost the region $575,000, which covered rights to the competition, insurance, and coronation ball costs. The state and the city each put up $100,000, and the rest was generated through private fundraising. Castleman said he expects a similar arrangement next year.

Miss USA's Baltimore double-take comes at a difficult moment in the pageant industry. Last week, the show's beleaguered rival, the Miss America competition, announced that it would be relocating to Las Vegas, after 84 years in Atlantic City, N.J.

ABC dropped its Miss America coverage in 2004, and now the pageant airs on cable-only Country Music Television.

Shugart won't comment on the possibility of making Maryland - home to CoverGirl, the Hunt Valley cosmetics company that is one of the pageant's major sponsors - the pageant's permanent location.

"We take everything one year at a time," she said.

But in the lobby of the Wyndham hotel yesterday, the reigning Miss USA did look pretty comfortable. Chelsea Cooley, 22, in town for the news conference and charity work, said she was looking forward to another extended tour of Baltimore.

abigail.tucker@baltsun.com