Gopher motel to get new image; rodent icon’s

by Andrew Donohue

With all 44 rooms under construction, a new front lobby and name, the owners of the former Gopher Campus Motor Lodge remain undecided on the fate of the nine-foot gopher in the front yard.
“It may be possible to put it on the roof and light it,” said general manager Craig Larson, of the motel’s infamous rodent statue.
When the motel re-opens in a few months, a new sign reading “Roadway Inn” will stand in place of the rodent icon.
The motel came under heavy scrutiny from Minneapolis officials after a large-scale drug bust led to six arrests and the seizure of drugs and guns last April.
The six suspects were later released, pending further investigation.
After a series of reviews by the Minneapolis City Council, motel owners were given a choice: pay $20,000 or close for 60 days.
Owners soon closed the motel after the February review, expecting to re-open yesterday.
Instead, the motel is undergoing major renovations with the hopes of nurturing a much-improved public image.
“The gopher motel has been synonymous with drugs and prostitution for some time now. (The owners) want to get back to being a viable part of the community,” said Larson, who was brought in by owners in August to combat the establishment’s seedy past. “The owners would like to distance themselves from the gopher motel.”
The renovations include completely gutted and refurbished rooms, new beds and a new telephone system. The motel will also make the transition to a computerized check-in network and each room will have Internet hookups.
“We’re moving from the Stone Age and catching up with the rest of civilization,” Larson said.
Also, Minneapolis zoning officials approved a 600-foot addition, which will serve as the new lobby. The outside of the current building will be revised and brought up to code.
“If you look at it now, it does not appeal to the eye,” Larson said.
As a result of the city’s intervention, the motel must also employ an off-duty police officer for security and enforce a strict identification policy for everybody entering the building.
In the past, 80 to 85 percent of the motel’s business was done in cash, which Larson said made the motel accessible to its shady clientele.
When it opens, the Roadway Inn plans to do 80 to 90 percent of its business through credit card purchases in order to make its clientele more accountable.
“People would get too drunk and wet the bed. You get that stink in the room for a couple of days and you need to buy new mattresses, new box springs and new frames,” Larson said. “We’ve had people who’ve done a good job of trashing this place.”
While changes are in the works and endorsed by city administrators, concerns still arise.
“When it opens, it will be a really nice place — at least we hope,” said Joan Campbell, Ward 2 city councilwoman. She added that the owners had good plans for the future.
The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, which asked the city to completely close the motel, plans to keep an eye on the establishment.
“Our concerns continue with the owners of that property,” said Ted Tucker, association president.
Students remain equally pessimistic.
“I don’t think that’ll make a difference; just from the reputation I’ve heard of it. I won’t go inside of it,” said Sharon Ebongu, a second-year College of Liberal Arts student.
— Staff Reporter Rebecca Czaplewski contributed to this report.