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Forward thinking in Boulder

Photo by Thomas Mangan

Entrepreneurs are always at your elbow in Boulder, Colo., not surprising in a city that Bloomberg Businessweek called “America’s Best Town for Startups.”

Among the enterprising and ingenious is John Georgis, a dreamer who took a school bus he bought on Ebay, sawed off its top, added a tin roof and wooden siding and launched Banjo Billy’s Bus Tours.

There’s also the budding teenage chef who invites townsfolk to three-course “pop up” dinners at his parents’ house for $40 a plate, putting his little brother to work as maitre ‘d.

And of course, few leave Boulder without paying a visit to its best-known entrepreneurial success story, the herbal tea company Celestial Seasonings.

Individualism and ideas are applauded in the town of 103,000, home to the University of Colorado. Locals say fresh air, wide vistas and the looming Colorado Front Range open eyes and minds.

It’s also possible that Boulderites have more blood coursing through their brains, given all the pedaling and walking they do. At last count, Boulder had 93,000 bikes and more than 144 miles of trails.

Steve Spencer, with Celestial Seasonings almost 30 years and now its guest relations ambassador, believes a combination of forces have made Boulder appealing to entrepreneurs.

“It’s a college town, with lots of bright young people,” said Spencer. “There is also the mountains, undeniably a dynamic force.”

Another difference in the landscape is also at play. Over the years, the city, with taxpayers’ blessings, bought 43,000 acres that border it, creating Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, public lands for all to enjoy.

“You have Boulder’s Open Space, places here that are not owned by people,” said Spencer. “Those open spaces open up possibilities and creates an atmosphere of optimism, of what might be. I think that feeds the entrepreneurial aspect. Entrepreneurs are just made here by virtue of the environment.”

Development a challenge
Of course, protecting the land has made its development more of a challenge. Case in point is the St Julien Hotel, which, when it opened seven years ago, was the first new downtown hotel since the Hotel Boulderado opened in 1909.

There’s also no convention center, although there has been talk about one for years. Debates in Boulder tend to run on; as an example, a Banjo Billy’s Bus tour guide pointed out the stump of a cottonwood, carved into a bench. After the tree was felled because of age and disease, a lengthy discussion ensued before the artful solution was settled upon.

Hotels for different tastes

Given its handful of small hotels, Boulder is a natural for small meetings and retreats. Four conference hotels fit different needs and tastes.

There’s the oldest hotel in town, the historic 160-room Hotel Boulderado, with its velvet Victorian settees and its original, bellman-operated elevator, and the newest, the St Julien, sleek and ultra chic.

Those who prefer national chains can opt for the smallest Marriott in the country, the 157-room Boulder Marriott, or the 269-room Millennium Harvest House Hotel, a half-moon-shaped property that sprawls across 16 acres and has a 450-person pavilion and its own tennis complex. “Nobody in Boulder has this, ” said Thomas Goodwill, director of sales and marketing.

Being next to the CU campus, the Millennium derives a quarter of its business from the university.

None of the four hotels has a huge amount of meeting space, but each is well designed for small meetings or conferences. The Boulderado’s 10,000 square feet of meeting space is in the hotel’s original building and its 1988 addition, which mimics the hotel’s Victorian style. Space in the old section has its charms, such as the long, narrow Porch Room, which was once a front porch. The North Wing’s 2,867-square-foot ballroom opens to a prefunction area that adjoins a small outdoor plaza.

The importance of the Boulderado cannot be denied. Citizens banded together, bought stock and paid for the hotel to be built. When it opened on New Year’s Day 1909, all of Boulder celebrated. “Thirteenth  and Spruce were among the first to be paved because of the hotel’s importance,” said Beverly Silva, director of business development.

The Marriott has six meeting spaces, including a 2,400-square-foot ballroom.

“A conference of 50 gets the hotel,” said Justin Budyak, director of sales.

Although it is sandwiched among parking lots and suburban shopping centers, the Marriott’s rooftop terraces allow guests to remember they are at the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

The 201-room St Julien makes the most of its wide views of the Flatirons with almost 7,000 square feet of lawns and terraces.

“People just want to be outside because the weather is so great in Boulder,” said Jennifer Rayment, national sales manager.

The hotel also has nearly 10,000 square feet of meeting space and a 10,000-square-foot spa.