It has been more than two years since the troubled Gopher Campus Motor Lodge closed its doors.
The hotel, located on the northwest corner of Fourth Street and 10th Avenue Southeast, had become as well known for its drug-related police raids and sketchy clientele as it was for its hallmark 15-foot gopher statue.
The property was originally scheduled to reopen as a Rodeway Inn on Nov. 1, 1999, nine months after the city of Minneapolis forced the hotel to temporarily shut down and clean up its act.
But until earlier this month, the motel stood unimproved and vacant.
“We closed it for a number of months now in an attempt to try and erase the bad image the Gopher had in the past, and start all over with a fresh, new attitude,” said the property’s owner, Dr. Elmer Salovich.
He applied more than a year ago for a permit to completely renovate and add an addition to the aging building, aspiring to resume operations under a different name.
The city gave Salovich a June 21, 2001 deadline to begin renovations and a planned addition.
Salovich made the deadline and now plans major renovations for the long-abandoned facility, hoping he will be able to reopen the property in the fall.
The new motel will be called The University Inn and will be an extended-stay hotel that will cater to a University-connected crowd.
“We’re hoping that the hotel will be a place for visiting professors and students to stay when visiting the ‘U’,” Salovich said.
He said the building will get a complete facelift, including substantial interior and exterior renovations.
An addition will be constructed on the Fourth Street side of the building and will feature a new lobby and entrance in an attempt to better blend in with neighborhood architecture and improve management’s ability to screen clientele.
All rooms will have new furniture, bathrooms and balconies, and new amenities will include a continental breakfast.
The renovation of the old Gopher Motel and the completion of the University Inn is a welcomed change to the community.
Prior to the February 1999 closing of the motel, illegal activity and police run-ins were commonplace.
“The Gopher was a headquarters for a major drug operation,” said Patricia Kelly, aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Joan Campbell, who represents the University’s second Ward.
Kelly said a major West Bank street operation used the hotel to store drugs, firearms and money.
“The drug operation would rent a room for two or three days, check-out and rent another to keep a low profile,” she said. “It really all came down to ineffective management.”
The fate of the Gopher came to a head after a mid-February 1999 police raid that resulted in several arrests and confiscation of thousands of dollars worth of drugs and firearms.
Shortly after, the city mandated the hotel either close for a couple of weeks or pay a fine. Owners opted to close, and decided to begin a massive renovation project to turn the business into a respectable operation.
Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association member Melissa Bean expressed her appreciation for the ownership’s efforts to restore the safety of the neighborhood.
“I’m pleased to have something positive opening in the area,” she said. “It’ll be a welcomed change.”
Peter Frost can be reached at [email protected]