A proposal to build a meeting and event center combined with an expansion of the St. Julien Hotel and Spa on the long-vacant "civic use pad" at Ninth Street and Canyon Boulevard received a warm reception Tuesday night from the Boulder City Council.

The proposal is more of a concept than a fully articulated plan at this point, but Boulder council members said it serves a clear need in the community and offers an opportunity to develop the site with some public benefit before the civic use requirement expires in 2020 and the St. Julien can develop the property as it wants.

"This is what's possible at this point," Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum said. "Maybe it's not what the original vision was, but as long as it provides significant public benefit, I think this is as good as we can do at this point."

When the St. Julien and the associated public underground parking garage that opens onto Walnut Street were built in 2002, an 11,000-square-foot concrete pad capable of supporting a building was built on the Canyon side of the property. The urban renewal plan for the area has called for 20 percent of the gross floor area to be dedicated for civic uses.

The criteria were that it should contribute to "the cultural or scientific or educational or entertainment or artistic or humanistic or civic life of the community." It had to be compatible with other uses and enhance the economic vitality of downtown.

And whoever was going to build it had to have the financial wherewithal to build and run the facility for the foreseeable future.

A new Boulder History Museum, a 500-seat performance hall, a community dance center, a children's museum and a science museum all have been proposed for the site, but none of the backers of those plans had the capital to actually develop them.

A fourth civic use task force convened in 2009 and came up with the current proposal in cooperation with the management of the St. Julien. The idea is for an 8,000-square-foot meeting and event space that could be arranged in flexible ways to serve a variety of needs, with priority given to nonprofit uses at favorable terms. There would be several stories of hotel rooms on top of the event space, all topped by a rooftop deck with views of the Flatirons.

The plan also envisions a pedestrian bridge over Canyon Boulevard to a future performing arts center where the library's Canyon Theater is now. The performing arts center is one idea of several for that area in the recently adopted Civic Area Master Plan.

Council member Andrew Shoemaker cautioned that the master plan contains a lot of competing ideas, and the council's support for the civic use pad proposal shouldn't be seen as endorsing one path for the rest of the area.

Councilwoman Suzanne Jones was one of several council members who said whatever agreement is developed between St. Julien and the city needs to be clear about how the public will benefit from the meeting space.

"My question is trying to manage use of space after all of us are gone and things have turned over," Jones said. "I can see how that could be complicated and murky and could devolve. I think that needs to be clarified."

Appelbaum said the city also needs to be very clear about who will pay for which portions of the project.

With the council's approval for the basic concept, city officials will negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the St. Julien while the hotel does additional feasibility studies.

The project would then have to go through the Planning Board and the Boulder Design Advisory Board, and aspects of the urban renewal plan would need to be modified to accommodate the new proposal.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.