Panel ponders future

by Michelle Moriarity

A University-area landmark with a checkered past faces an uncertain future as city officials will determine the fate of the Gopher Campus Motor Lodge, located at 925 Fourth St. S.E.
In the first of two days of hearings, attorneys for the motel’s owners and the city of Minneapolis convened before a licensing panel Monday to determine whether the city will renew the motel’s business license this year.
And if area residents and police officers have their way, the motel will be history before long.
“I would like to see the establishment closed and the neighborhood would like to see it bulldozed,” said Ward 2 council member Joan Campbell. In her nine years as a city official, Campbell said she has been consistently displeased with the unsavory activities associated with the motel.
“It has peaks and valleys,” she said. “But it’s always been a problem.”
The licensing committee, which is comprised of city council members, will reconvene Tuesday, Oct. 27, in a continuation of the hearing. They will produce a recommendation for the City Council, which will ultimately determine the motel’s fate.
Built in 1958, the motel was the site of a homicide in 1989 and three drug raids within the past year and a half, according to police reports. Other suspicious activities, including prostitution, vandalism and robbery, have helped tarnish the motel’s reputation.
Local police officers added that the high student population in the area also has authorities concerned about residents’ welfare.
“The neighbors are concerned because there’s so many people there,” said Minneapolis Police Officer Gary Hein. Police have been called to the establishment to combat loitering and “outlandish parties,” Hein said.
In spite of their efforts, however, police said motel management does not address city complaints.
“All we ever get from the management is ‘Yeah, we’ll do it. Yeah, we’ll do it. Yeah, we’ll do it,'” said Minneapolis Police Officer Walt Johnson. “It’s all just lip service. (We) have to respond to call after call from the Gopher.”
Hein and Johnson were among the variety of witnesses called upon to testify at the hearing. Others included narcotics officers and Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association president Ted Tucker.
“The Gopher Motel should be closed,” Tucker told the panel. “The basis of my opinion is the collection of statements from other neighbors.”
The panel also reviewed two letters addressed to motel officials from the association detailing neighborhood complaints. Local residents have observed and complained about alleged drug dealing in the parking lots, Tucker said, and “it makes them feel unsafe.”
“It is one of the factors that affects their remaining in the neighborhood,” he added.
In spite of these and other allegations, motel attorneys maintained that management is willing to work on the motel’s problems.
“The owners are conscientious, responsible people who will make any improvements necessary,” said attorney Gerald Yost. “We feel it’s a viable business. There’s no reason to close a viable business.”
In order to more positively reflect their intentions, owners have improved security by hiring off-duty police officers as security guards. They also began requiring picture identification of all clientele.
General manager Craig Larson added that during the past several months, surveillance cameras were installed inside and outside the structure as a security measure.
Though he declined to comment on the allegations, Larson said, “I’d like people to know that it’s something we’re concerned about.”