The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) gave conceptual approval Wednesday to plans to turn the five-story Burns Building, located at 401 E. Houston St., into a “contemporary boutique hotel.”

Once completed, the hotel – which was once a JCPenney department store for a number of years before sitting vacant – will contain 112-120 rooms, a fitness center, conference and meetings rooms, and other amenities such as valet service.

Architects with Alamo Architects, the firm that is designing the project, received approval to demolish the existing fifth level of the building, which was added in the 1950s by JCPenney, and build a four-story addition with potential for rain and shade cover. Designers will also rehabilitate and restore the structure’s historic façade, clean the existing masonry, and replace any cast stone and terracotta damaged as the fifth-story addition is removed.

Alamo Architects Principal Mike McGlone presented updated design schemes to the HDRC Wednesday based on suggestions provided in a previous HDRC Architectural Committee meeting, including subtle changes in the metal panel covers on the outfacing windows.

401 East Houston Street.
The Burns-Penny Building at 401 East Houston Street. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The property owner will eventually have to come back to HDRC for final approval of the more detailed design scheme. McGlone could not be reached after the meeting to answer more questions about the project and give a timeline of its completion.

HDRC Vice Chair Michael Connor commended Alamo Architects for making the project compatible with the surrounding historic area, something that is “very tricky” to do since the structures should not overpower existing buildings or “give a false sense of history.”

The location of the Burns Building, 401 E. Houston St.
The location of the Burns Building, 401 E. Houston St. Credit: Courtesy / Google Maps

The Houston Street corridor, home to the city’s emerging tech district, is an area that has recently piqued the interests of a number of developers. Other projects near the Burns Building include the 24-story, 197-room Canopy by Hilton hotel on the corner of North St. Mary’s and Commerce streets and the transformation of the Grant and Kress buildings into mixed-use office and retail space.

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is