A stroll down Walnut Street in downtown Boulder past the St Julien hotel could provide a glimpse into what’s in store for downtown Fort Collins if Bohemian Cos. develops a high-end boutique hotel on the land it owns in Old Town.

The St Julien, built in 2005 after more than 10 years of legal and political wrangling, sits atop a 656-space public/private underground parking structure and is the picture of luxury on a prime piece of downtown Boulder real estate.

In front of the St Julien, valets deliver Cadillacs to their owners waiting under gilded letters spelling out the hotel’s name. To the left and right of the hotel’s main entrance are street entrances to the restaurant and spa, both of which provide high-end services and products to hotel guests and Boulder residents alike.

At the back of the marble-adorned lobby are doors that lead to a well-kept garden, complete with outdoor dining areas, a foundation and a gazebo just begging to play host to a couple saying “I do.”

Could all of this be a part of downtown Fort Collins in the years to come?

Bohemian representatives have told BizWest that they liked the concept at the St Julien and would consider replicating parts of it in Fort Collins if the company decided to proceed with developing a hotel. Officials at the foundation declined to comment for this story.

Before the St Julien could be built, however, many years of push and pull between the city of Boulder and various private entities occurred in an attempt to create a project that would be beneficial both publicly and privately.

But just as Fort Collins has toyed with the idea of a luxury downtown accommodation for years, Boulder too battled for more than decade to make the St Julien happen.

The idea for a top-of-the line hotel to be built on the Boulder site first came up in 1985, according to BizWest archives, but work didn’t begin in earnest on the parcel at 900 Walnut St. until 1994, when Bruce Porcelli and St Julien Partners purchased the land. What followed were years of drawn-out negotiations involving financing deficiencies, engineering changes and delays in selling bonds for the public-private underground garage.

St Julien representatives did not respond to interview requests for this article.

An election in 1998 approved $12.5 million in municipal bonds to finance the construction of the parking garage, which serves St Julien customers and the general public, said Molly Winter, executive director of parking services for the city of Boulder. St Julien Partners was on the hook for the remaining $2 million to build the structure.

In November 2002, financing was finally approved for what would become Boulder’s first four-star hotel, and in 2003, construction was under way. It was completed in 2005, 11 years after Porcelli and partners acquired the parcel. Rooms at the plush, resort-like facility go for $300 and more a night, twice as much as a comparable room at the Armstrong Hotel in downtown Fort Collins.

The $24 million St Julien encompasses 140,000 square feet including 200 rooms, and has become a staple for wealthy visitors, business travelers, vacationers, wedding guests and conference attendees in the past nine years.

The hotel includes 16,500 square feet of conference space, something those pushing for a hotel in downtown Fort Collins are intent on acquiring, according to Jeff Miller, associate professor in the hospitality management program at Colorado State University.

The Armstrong Hotel, which was built in 1923 and renovated in 2004, has plenty of historic charm, but lacks the space for large conferences, Miller said.

One driving force behind the new hotel development, Miller said, is likely to be the construction of Woodward Inc.’s new campus at Lemay and Lincoln avenues, scheduled to be open, at least in part, by late 2015. The campus is just blocks from the hotel site Bohemian is considering at 354 Walnut St., said Miller, and will generate a wave of new corporate visitors and demand for more conference space.

The idea of a new hotel on the space that used to house Armadillo Mexican Restaurant is well-received by most of the community, but the issue could become complicated if and when public dollars come into play.

In November, Bohemian announced that it had purchased a space at 363 Jefferson St., adjacent to the Armadillo site, to make room for parking, something the company has said must come before a new hotel.

Bohemian already has taken the first steps toward creating the hotel, Miller said, by acquiring the necessary property and entering into a due-diligence phase to determine the feasibility of the project.

Fort Collins’ occupancy rate is just about right to necessitate a new hotel, Miller said. Occupancy rates of 65 percent or higher tend to attract operators to manage a new hotel, he said, and in 2013, Fort Collins hotels had a rate of 62 percent, a slight increase from 61 percent in 2012.

How much if any help the city would provide for a parking structure isn’t clear. Fort Collins has conducted a downtown parking study to address the current parking shortages in Old Town, and is revamping some parking policies. But the city has yet to announce any plans to partner with the Bohemian group on a hotel parking project.

Fort Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat said hotels are “an integral piece of downtown in most metro areas,” adding that the city would be open to a public-private partnership if the project were right.

The hotel would have to offer some community benefit apart from its private amenities, Weitkunat said. As an example, she noted that Front Range Village, the shopping center on Harmony Road that was created by a private developer in conjunction with the city, includes a public library. Also, the contentious redevelopment project at Foothills mall includes the renovation of the Youth Activity Center.

Weitkunat also expressed some reservations about whether Fort Collins has the right market for an upscale boutique hotel.

“While I applaud the idea,” she said, “I’m not so sure the market is there.”

Molly Armbrister can be reached at 970-232-3129 or marmbrister@bizwestmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @marmbristerBW.