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Architects, developers bring downtown Walgreen’s into 21st Century

April 10, 2009

By Sandra Lowe Sanchez, San Antonio Business Journal

For more than 70 years, the Walgreen’s store on Houston Street was a fixture, more recently serving as a sign of past times, with narrow aisles and a smaller selection than most of its stores. But for the last year, developers, contractors and architects have been working to bring the downtown drug store into the 21st Century. Set to open next month, the store will be part of the latest renovation work taken on by owner Federal Realty Investment Trust as part of its Houston Street redevelopment efforts. “The new store’s footprint will dwarf the old one, more than tripling the size and product offerings,” says Melissa Douglas, CEO of the husband and wife run architectural firm Douglas Architects.

At 15,000 square feet, the drug store will go a long way in supplying residents not only with medicine, but with many of the other basic necessities and conveniences for residents. “The new and expanded Walgreen’s will essentially be an urban market so vitally needed in downtown,” Douglas says. Part of a 54,000-square-foot mixed use development, the building at 300 Houston will house Nix Hospital offices on the second floor. A tower structure was added onto the building at College and Navarro that will serve as an entry to the Nix offices. (The hospital is across from the offices at the other corner Collage and Navarro.) An additional retail space fronting Houston Street is still available for lease. G.W. Mitchell & Sons Construction is the general contractor on the project.

New building

Andrew Douglas, Melissa’s husband and the other architect on the project, says that while construction crews began working on the project a year ago, much of the work on the building occurred before, with plans for the property approved by the Historic Design and Review Commission as well as the City of San Antonio. The work involved demolishing both the old Walgreen’s building and its neighbor, the Stuart Building, which once housed Stuart Department Store. “Most of the property had structural problems,” Andrew Douglas explains. “We had to make an official case for demolition.”

“The new building employs similar colors, materials and detailing that are contemporary, yet respectful of its neighbors,” Melissa Douglas adds. Also, the building also utilizes the store’s original neon sign, which has been restored. Melissa Douglas recalls first standing under it in 1982, when she visited downtown as a student at Trinity University. “For many San Antonians there is much nostalgia associated with the sign,” she says. “Several people have come up (to us) during construction and mentioned that they are so glad to see the old sign back, and they remember it being part of Houston Street since their childhood.”