New hotel is downtown's first since 1909

By John Rebchook, Rocky Mountain News January 15, 2005

The $36 million St. Julien Hotel & Spa will open its doors Jan. 31, the first hotel built in downtown Boulder in almost a century. The last hotel to be built in the heart of downtown Boulder was the venerable Hotel Boulderado, which opened in 1909. The 200-room hotel on Ninth Street, between Canyon Boulevard and Walnut Street, will sport a 10,000-square- foot spa and fitness center, a 125-seat restaurant and a general manager who honed his skills working at luxury hotels for TV celebrity Merv Griffin. Room rates will be in the $245 to $600 range, although specials will be available at much lower rates depending on the season, said manager David Lurie.

In true Boulder fashion, the hotel was built with energy-efficient materials and water-saving devices wherever possible, said one of its three owners, local businessman Bruce Porcelli. "It's the first new hotel in the real downtown core in (almost) 100 years," Porcelli said. Porcelli has been working on the deal for the past 10 years. "To put that in perspective and to be fair, it wasn't full time for 10 years," he said. "It involved things like putting together a plan, presenting it to a land board and waiting three months for a response." In the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn't easy to get any development built in Boulder because much of the City Council and much of the public sentiment opposed growth, he said. "Part of the obstacle was that people were not used to seeing a building on the site because it had been vacant for years and years," Porcelli said. "It had basically been parking." John Montgomery, president of Horwath Horizon Hospitality Advisors/ Montgomery Associates, said that based on demographics Boulder probably could support three or four downtown hotels. He agreed with Porcelli that the city's no-growth attitude kept hotels out of Boulder for a long time. "I think now there's a realization that a lot of hotels built in places like Interlocken (in Broomfield) and in Westminster, really should have been built in downtown Boulder," Montgomery said. "You have to give those guys at St. Julien kudos for sticking it out all of those years." He noted that several other proposals for a hotel in the area over the past 25 years bit the dust when developers became frustrated dealing with the city.

The 2.7-acre hotel site is part of long-abandoned rail yards for the Burlington Northern Railroad, Porcelli said. When he first started on the development, plans were to make it a brand hotel, such as a Marriott or a Hilton, he said. "It was always going to be a high-end hotel, but as time went on, people started calling it the St. Julien, which was a very small hotel in Boulder at 14th and Spruce," he said. "To call it a hotel might be stretching it. It was more of a flophouse run by Mrs. Julien." He said he thinks it burned down around 1904. It was a "major decision," he said, to not go with a well-known franchise. Instead, it is part of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts World Wide operation, "which has the highest percentage of four- and five-star hotels in the country," he said. "They carry no brand flags. The Broadmoor is a Preferred hotel, the Lodge at Vail is a Preferred hotel and the Brown Palace used to be a Preferred hotel." St. Julien manager Lurie most recently came from a Preferred hotel in San Antonio. Before that he worked for Griffin at his ritzy hotels in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, Calif. Griffin, according to a Web page dedicated to him, said his passion for owning hotels came after years of touring and literally "living out of hotels." He was fond of saying that his operating strategy was to "Bring the people in, entertain them and give them a reason to come back." Lurie said Griffin's success came from surrounding himself with great operators and then "giving it Merv's twist" to make it special. "The St. Julien is very different," from Griffin's hotels, Lurie said. "I would not call it lavish. It is going to be very Boulder. But like with Merv's hotels, we're going to have a lot of twists. I can't say what they're going to be in a newspaper. But if you come here, you'll find a lot of surprises."

Hotel at a glance
• 200 rooms, including 11 two-room suites, three hospitality • Spacious rooms averaging 400 square feet • Luxurious bathrooms with soaking tubs and separate glass showers • 10,000-square-foot spa and fitness center • Two-lane lap swimming pool • 650-space public parking garage below the hotel or 303-892-5207