How securing SBA financing helped the Bottling Plant Event Center get their start and recover from the pandemic

Lisa Ditchkoff sitting at a table smiling

Following a successful career working for nonprofits where Lisa Ditchkoff did case management work, coordinated events and fundraising, she embraced the idea of starting her own event planning business and hoped to one day to own her own unique venue. While Lisa dreamed big, she knew she would need to start small. She began by starting a small event planning business in 2003, operating out of her home for the first year while she built her clientele. In 2008, Lisa drove by the former Coca-Cola bottling plant in downtown Opelika, Alabama and saw a “for sale” sign. Lisa recalled, “I really wasn’t necessarily ready for the challenges that lay ahead, but I walked in there – and all I could see was people everywhere.”

In midst of the 2008 economic downturn, the odds were against her as she tried securing refinancing to renovate the dilapidated building. She recalled having her loan applications rejected several times, but she persisted, and a lender finally agreed if she was able to secure an U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) loan for a portion of funds. She recalled that it took a few more attempts and the assistance with the Alabama Small Business Development Center (ASBDC) Capital Access Program to finally secure SBA 504 loan. A few years later, with SBDC financial experts’ assistance, she was able to secure refinancing of the bank’s loan when interest rates decreased. In fact, the Bottling Plant Event Center had emerged from the abandoned building Lisa once walked into with wild dreams and has been growing for more than 10 years. This growth included diversifying a business model to offer in-house catering, an additional lounge area, and an 8,300 sq. ft. addition pavilion to the courtyard. All of these upgrades have made the venue even more unique and diverse for weddings and events.

In 2020, however, her business like so many others were hit by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Once again, Lisa demonstrated her resiliency and dedication to her business by pivoting from normal business protocols to something that could survive unknown challenges. The Bottling Plant Event Center added a wine retail shop, curbside food, and off-site catering to their list of business services to help stay afloat. Eventually, Lisa was able secure first and second round Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding and successfully obtained a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (COVID EIDL). She states that the COVID EIDL in particular made a huge impact by providing her with the flexibility to put funds into the top priorities for her business. While there are still gaps in the event calendar to work through, Lisa remains optimistic that the business will continue to grow, especially with the help and assistance provided by the SBA resources. Lisa had started small, but her dream of managing a unique event venue filled with people is now a reality, as well as being an asset to Opelika and the surrounding areas.