October 6, 2022

Santa Rosa entertainment venue Epicenter, hit hard by the pandemic, turns to Poppy Bank for refinancing, naming rights

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After enduring rough pandemic fallout in 2020, a Santa Rosa fixture of family sports has received an $18 million debt refinancing loan from Poppy Bank.

Part of the loan agreement calls for the center to be renamed “Poppy Bank Epicenter,” a sign of the times at many U.S. ballparks these days. According to Ballpark Digest, two thirds of the 30 Major League Baseball ballparks are tied to corporate naming rights.

Santa Rosa’s Poppy Bank, which plans to also install ATM machines at the facility this summer, described the deal as a first partnership of its kind for the 17-year-old, privately-held, business bank with $4 billion in assets and offices in California, Utah, Texas, New York and South Carolina.

The 15-year loan closed on April 19.

“That loan put us on financial footing that otherwise we would not be able to do,” Epicenter Chief Financial Officer Brad Bergum told the Business Journal on a stroll through the facility May 24.

The place was hopping with parents watching youngsters in the play zone, athletes playing court volleyball and soccer on the field. Active types were also working out at the onsite, 10,000-square-foot Anytime Fitness gym, while Golden State Warriors fans enjoying Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals in the Victory House sports bar.

The 130,000-square-foot, two-story Epicenter on Coffey Lane in Santa Rosa recently installed upgrades like an ax-throwing cage. It also plans to pursue hosting more corporate retreats, putting in an outdoor patio and local collaborations that would involve concession operators, Bergum pointed out.

In addition, it’s bringing in more live music to accompany its comedy performances and will add drag shows to its live acts for Gay Pride next month.

“We want to do a lot of things well,” he said.

Bergum said after closing in mid-March 2020 because of the pandemic, the center, which reopened in June 2021, has climbed out of an operational expense hole.

The center racked up $1 million in revenue in July 2019. Two years later in July, it took in $800,000 a month, about what it costs to operate the facility, Bergum said. About $50,000 of that consists of utility costs alone.

“There was a long period of time we didn’t have the resources to pay our bills. But we worked so hard to build this,” he said, adding a cannabis business approached the facility to buy into the spot in the industrial neighborhood. “I’ve been the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life pondering that (giving up).”

Bergum said the 5-year-old business, which is privately run through an ownership group of nine families, received no restaurant stimulus but did secure $2 million in Paycheck Protection Program funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration to maintain its payroll. The loan has been forgiven except the $30,000 the center already paid. Epicenter employs 200 staffers, 50 fewer than pre-pandemic levels.

Poppy Bank CEO Khalid Acheckzai said he was very pleased to help Epicenter survive — for professional and personal reasons.

For one thing, Acheckzai has three children who have enjoyed going there.

“They were excited about the renaming,” he quipped. After all, dad’s company has its name attached to one of the most fun places in town.

The Poppy Bank chief confirmed the name change rights will last for 10 years as part of the terms. The bank holds no operational or ownership stake in Epicenter besides the name. It’s the first time the private bank has ever included a renaming clause as part of a loan.

“We didn’t go into it initially with that in mind,” he said. “When we gave them the financing, I think they realized we were focused on not only the business transaction, but that we understand the importance of their business to the community.”

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture as well as banking and finance. For 27 years, Susan has worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe News. Reach her at 530-545-8662 or susan.wood@busjrnl.com



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