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I-TEAM Investigates Complaints At Local Water Park Hotel

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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By Liz Collin, WCCO-TV

BROOKLYN PARK, Minn. (WCCO) — A Twin Cities suburb could force a well-known water park hotel to close if it doesn’t clean up its act.

Last week, the I-TEAM went undercover and discovered a long list of problems inside the Ramada Grand Rios in Brooklyn Park.

Nearly half of its rooms are already off limits but it’s what you can’t see that could cost the hotel and water park guests hundreds of dollars.

Like any new couple, Erin Runk and Michelle Evens wanted to make their first Valentine’s Day count. They decided a group date at Grand Rios would also work as a winter weekend getaway.

“We had booked it probably a good month or so in advance. So, we were definitely looking to not only going to the water park but be able to have a fun weekend hanging out with our friends,” Evens said.

But they say their “staycation” didn’t live up to those expectations.

“I was the one who suggested we just go home a few times,” Evens added.

The I-TEAM rented a room to see the conditions first-hand. As soon as they checked in, they could see a roofing crew had taken over the lobby. They observed bags covering long stretches of the ceiling, buckets collecting water in some hallways and door after door was marked with black tape and yellow tags from the health department.

In all, 120 rooms, which is more than half of the hotel’s rooms, were uninhabitable.

“I get back to the room and I’m like, ‘I’m going to start taking some pictures of this stuff. This needs to be told,'” said Runk.

Runk also learned first-hand about the hotel’s history of rooms being burglarized.

“That’s when I went to go grab my phone and it wasn’t where I had left it,” Runk remembered.

The I-TEAM found police were called 281 times to Grand Rios in the last two years. Of those calls, 58 calls were for room thefts and 15 calls were for stuff missing from cars in the parking lot.

In Runk’s case, police said they found someone used a front desk master key to access his room while he was at the water park.

The I-TEAM found a similar story in most of the other break-ins where employees were suspected of swiping money, cell phones, laptops and cameras.

Roy Fernandez is the general manager at Grand Rios now. He’s only held the position for two months. When he started, he said he took master key access away from most employees.

The I-TEAM asked Fernandez if employees are stealing from rooms.

“It’s really hard to judge anybody but I don’t think so,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez said part of the theft problem could be guests leaving their rooms unlocked. The hotel will add more cameras next month.

It will be months until the roof repairs are complete. Fernandez said this winter’s heavy snow and the past owner’s lack of action made water damage worse. He insists guests know what they’re getting into because there are signs on entry doors and room rates are discounted.

Fernandez also said construction zones are off limits, even though the I-TEAM walked right in.

The city of Brooklyn Park has been keeping a close eye on Grand Rios after fielding complaints for months. In November, the city closed one of the water park’s slides after 17-year-old Youtee Pour was pulled from a pool and died at the hospital. An investigation found no one was working at the top of the slide, which is required by law.

Bob Schreier directs Brooklyn Park’s Community Development Department. While the lifeguard situation has been resolved, he said if other areas aren’t fixed, the city will force the hotel to shut down.

“I’ve been here seven years and we’ve never worked so hard on a business as this one,” said Schreier. “This is when it’s taking an inordinate amount of time.”

The city meets with hotel management every couple of weeks and will continue doing so.

As for Runk, he complained to Ramada’s corporate office asking for $500 to cover the cost of his iPhone.

“As of today, I have not received any other response of any kind,” Runk said.

After learning he’s not alone, Runk doesn’t think he’ll ever see that money or his phone again.

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