Owners struggle

Michelle Moriarity

Owners of the Gopher Campus Motor Lodge emphatically defended their establishment Monday while protesting the Minneapolis licensing department’s efforts in the last of several hearings that will help determine the fate of the troubled motel.
City officials initiated the license revocation process last spring after Minneapolis police conducted a drug raid at the motel in late April.
The City Council committee presiding over the hearing is expected to produce a decision within the next few weeks, which they will present for full council consideration before making a binding decision.
Capping off testimony spread out over three months, co-owners Elmer Salovich and Larry Hopfenspirger said the city has virtually ignored their efforts to combat crime and improve the motel, located at 925 Fourth St. S.E.
“How do you condemn somebody who’s doing all they can do?” Hopfenspirger asked city licensing officials. “We gladly would have paid a fine earlier rather than have this itemization. I don’t understand why it got this far.”
Salovich, a local orthopedic surgeon and assistant professor in the University’s Medical School, and his attorney Gerald Yost said the city failed to convey its displeasure with the motel through written correspondence.
“The communication here has been deplorable,” Yost said in his closing statement. “There is some responsibility on (former managers) Roman Sowada and Arlo Johnson for not informing the owners … (but) a lot of the responsibility falls on the license inspection department as well.”
Because of alleged mismanagement, city officials said the Gopher Motel operated without a license from November 1996 to June 1997. During the past four years, motel management incurred city scrutiny because of inaccurate and incomplete license renewal applications, said licensing inspector Julie Casey.
And without complete application information, she said the only place she could send notices was to the motel itself.
She added, however, that no city ordinance stipulates the need for written correspondence.
Both owners also emphasized that they maintained good relationships with the motel’s closest neighbors — residents of fraternities and sororities — and the only individuals complaining about motel activity live several blocks away.
“This business of neighbors being fearful of the Gopher is just baloney,” he said. “The fraternity next door to us raises more Cain than we’d ever raise.”
Licensing officials first met with motel owners in June for a technical advisory committee hearing, in which Salovich and Hopfenspirger were informed that the city had started the license revocation process.
Since then, they have hired new management, made aesthetic improvements to the motel and increased security. From July through October, Hopfenspirger said the motel has turned away 421 potential guests because they did not produce picture identification.
As a result, general manager Craig Larson reported that occupancy has decreased significantly. But an increase in rates paired with different clientele has made motel management optimistic that the establishment has a promising future.
As part of the overhaul, owners hired Larson and management consultant Fred Katter in September. Katter, who has worked for several Twin Cities hospitality establishments, said motels like the Gopher Campus Motor Lodge endure a high level of use and require frequent improvements and inspections. The motel’s needs, he said, are not unusual.
But the circumstances surrounding them are, Hopfenspirger said. “We have gone through this with a lot of emotional upset,” he said. “If this is the way it is, I don’t want to have my investment dollars in Minneapolis.”