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Uptown Jackson looks toward a successful 2024

Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization met for its annual meeting on Thursday. Shown above, from left, is UJRO President Hunter Williams, Executive Director Erin Ressler, Secretary Natalie Pannier, Vice President Scott Givens and Treasurer Madison Boeller. Photo by Jay Forness

Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization held its annual meeting on Thursday, Jan 25, at the Jackson Civic Center – highlighting its 2023 accomplishments and looking forward to its 2024 events.

This was the first annual meeting for UJRO’s new executive director, Erin Ressler, who took over the role on Dec. 4, 2023.

UJRO Board President Hunter WIlliams said the organization is currently in a transitional period to get Ressler caught up on all the workings of UJRO. “It’s a lot to learn,” Williams said. Ressler introduced herself, saying she was excited to work with Uptown Jackson.

“I’m a Jackson native who never left – I’ve always been in the area,” Ressler said. “I went to SEMO and went right into event planning and wedding planning before I went to the nonprofit world. I’ve basically done that ever since.”

Ressler worked as the community development manager for the American Cancer Society for several years before taking the Uptown Jackson role.

During the meeting, the organization also recognized former executive director Janna Clifton for all her work growing UJRO. Clifton held the position of the UJRO’s executive director for two years.

The organization raised a total of $186,943 in 2023, with the vast majority of the income coming from its events. $146,424 came from event revenue, while $27,860 came from investor donations, $8,925 came from sponsorships and $3,734 came from miscellaneous revenue sources. UJRO had a total of $154,320 in expenses in 2023, leaving the organization with a surplus of $32,623 at the end of the year.

Williams said the organization hopes to grow its sponsorship program this year “We rolled out our new sponsorship and investor structure last year,” he said. “This is the second year that we’ve had the restructured system.”

Businesses and individuals can now pick various sponsorship levels to be included at every UJRO event, ranging from the $500 Main Street level to the $1,500 Uptown level.

In addition, businesses can sponsor individual items at events – such as a stage at Oktoberfest or one of the awards at the Christmas parade. “You can double up and put your brand as many places as you like,” Ressler said.

The organization also accepts investor donations, ranging from the supporter level of $50 to the investor level of $500.

In addition to creating the new sponsorship structure, the organization committee hosted the Missouri Main Street Connection’s quarterly workshop in Jackson. Around 150 people from across the state came to Jackson in November to learn about historic preservation.

The organization committee also secured funding to renovate the courthouse fountain, which is scheduled to take place this year as Cape Girardeau County renovates the historic courthouse in Jackson.

The economic vitality committee has worked on updating the organization’s business directory. The directory can currently be viewed as a map of the uptown district on ujro.org. The map also features public parking lots and currently available properties in the area.

“It’s a work in progress and we hope it will continue to build out,” Economic Vitality Chair Terry Baker said, adding that the map can be updated by uptown property owners and merchants.

The committee also hosted its second merchant seminar for uptown businesses on Jan. 29. Last year’s seminar was on time management, and this year’s seminar tackled how to capitalize on area events and how to deal with road construction. Both merchant seminars were led by Dana Thomas, owner of Bold Marketing.

The design committee is currently working with a local signage contractor to develop signage for the uptown district. Design Committee Chair Craig Milde said the signage will hopefully be completed by the end of this year.

The project will include information signs with a map of the district and upcoming event posters, markers for the entrances to the historic district and wayfinding signs towards area landmarks and public parking.

The design committee was also a finalist for Missouri Main Street Connection’s creative spaces grant with a proposal to create a movable selfie station for the uptown area.

The promotions committee, in addition to their work on various events throughout the year, designed Uptown Jackson t-shirts, stickers, magnets and postcards that will go on sale in uptown shops and at various UJRO events.

The organization is getting ready for the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8. UJRO is partnering with The Cash-Book Journal, Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce and City of Jackson Outreach Board to host a variety of watch parties in Jackson, including one uptown.

“When we had an eclipse in 2017, there were very few of us,” Promotions Chair Janey Foust said. “It was an event I’ll never forget, and there was probably only 100 people Uptown, It was so cool and back then we couldn’t wait for another eclipse in seven years. In 2017, it lasted for around 20 seconds, but this year it’s going to be over four minutes – so we’re very excited about it.”

The organization also plans on bringing back its Farm to Table event, which was first held in 2023. This year’s Farm to Table event, in which locally grown food is served outdoors on High Street, is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Farm to Table Chair Brook Venable said they plan to add a few more seats this year, but the event is expected to again sell out. “It was so successful last year, with around 200 people attending,” Venable said. “We’ll make a few changes this year, but it will be a similar concept.”

The next Uptown Jackson event will be February Annual on Feb. 24. This year’s theme, “Fit to Print,” highlights printmaking with local demonstrations and an art exhibition uptown featuring work from Hatch Show Print in Nashville. In addition to the live demonstrations, Uptown Jackson’s first food truck mini-rally will be held as part of the event.

Other events scheduled for this year is the quarter auction Springfest on April 19, the gardening-themed celebration Jackson in Bloom on April 27, the German festival Oktoberfest on Oct. 4-5 and the annual Christmas parade on Dec. 1.

“I can’t emphasize enough how much we need volunteers at every one of these events,” Foust said. “From the littlest thing you want to do and the least amount of time you want to give to the most amount of time you want to give, we can find a place for you.”

The organization ended the annual meeting by asking for suggestions and priorities for the upcoming year. Suggestions included more greenery in the uptown district and at the roundabout, a chalk art event around the courthouse and a cemetery tour around Halloween.

The former Ross Furniture building on High Street was also brought up, with Mayor Dwain Hahs saying he is still working with the property owner to have that building sold to someone in Cape Girardeau County. Hahs said there has been good communication with the property owner, and he is hopeful there will be an update around April.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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