The 15-foot gopher statue at the Gopher Campus Motor Lodge was uprooted and removed Monday, one of many changes to come for the well-known local motel.
The troubled property is in the first stages of a $700,000 renovation to ready it for a Nov. 1 reopening as part of the Roadway Inn motel chain. By all accounts, improvements to the motel have been long in coming.
When the city of Minneapolis forced the Gopher motel to temporarily close its doors in mid-February for frequent run-ins with the police, the motel had become as well known for its hallmark gopher statue as it was for drug-related police raids and unsavory clientele.
Shortly after the February shutdown, motel management advertised that the building was closed because of remodeling — not a scuffle with the city — and due to reopen on April 15, the day the city suspension was officially lifted. But it never reopened and local residents were left wondering about the 30-room motel and the duration of its vacancy.
Julie Casey, a Minneapolis inspections officer, said the building was placed under suspension this winter because of “mismanagement, narcotics trafficking and a bombardment of police calls.”
“We closed the Gopher because it really wasn’t a safe place. They needed to get their act together, and clean the place up,” she said.
The owners of the motel, Larry Hopfenspirger and Dr. Elmer Salovich apparently took the inspection office’s negative evaluation to heart when they decided to begin the massive renovation project.
“We’re doing whatever it takes to make this a respectable, clean-running operation,” Hopfenspirger said.
“We’re spending two times what we paid for the business (on remodeling.) This is no small operation,” he said.
The spiffed-up motel will feature new furniture, bathrooms and balconies. New amenities will include continental breakfasts for guests and an expanded lobby on the Fourth Street side of the building.
Not forgetting the motel’s troubles with the law, a fence will be constructed around the property’s perimeter to help keep out trouble.
Melissa Bean, a member of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, said she is “pleased to have something positive opening in the area,” and glad the ‘old gopher’ and its crowd are on their way out.
Bean said she’s confident the new motel will be a “different scene, and will be marketing to a University-connected crowd.”
City inspectors have also expressed their appreciation for Salovich and Hopfenspirger’s efforts to clean the place up.
In the past, many rooms were paid for with cash, which made it harder to track individuals who may be involved in illegal activities, and easier for those clients to use false identities.
Motel owners said they will attempt to draw a ‘ma and pa crowd,’ where 80 percent to 90 percent of rooms are paid for with credit cards — a measure that helps insure the accountability of motel patrons.