Last week Streetsblog looked into the suburban real estate moguls who used their public offices to advance the country’s largest sprawl project – Houston’s third outerbelt, also known as the Grand Parkway. But even with all the cronyism and self-deal propelling this project forward, just a few months ago it looked like the Grand Parkway had been stopped in its tracks. The money had run out. The public was balking [PDF].
Then a man named Ned Holmes came to the rescue. A real estate developer, Texas DOT commissioner and prominent businessman, Holmes “found” the $350 million in unbudgeted money needed to move the project forward another 15 miles in its relentless, multi-decade march into the Houston region’s last natural grasslands.
In many ways Ned Holmes fits the profile of the government officials that have pushed this project forward in the past: He’s a real estate developer occupying a public office that gives him enormous power to shape the built environment.
In his public life, Holmes is a well-known pillar of the Texas conservative establishment. According to the Texas Secretary of State, he is the director of the Houston Baptist University, Associated Republicans of Texas, the Greater Houston Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Governor’s Business Council.
In his business activities, however, Holmes keeps a lower profile. He made a fortune in banking, but he identifies himself as a real estate developer, the head of Parkway Investments.
As for what Parkway Investments does exactly, it’s hard to know. The company has no website. There is no public record of properties developed. Holmes declined to be interviewed for this story and did not respond to email queries. But he did respond through a TxDOT employee, who said Holmes does not stand to profit in any of his business ventures from the completion of the $5.2 billion Grand Parkway.
But the company certainly has a record for actively supporting local politicians. In 2004 alone, Parkway Investments donated $174,000 to a variety of candidates, making Holmes one of the single biggest political donors in the state.
According to data maintained by Texans for Public Justice, Holmes has been a big supporter of Texas Governor Rick Perry. In fact, Holmes donated $192,000 to Rick Perry before the governor appointed him to TxDOT’s powerful Texas Transportation Commission in 2007. (Rick Perry has given 15 appointed positions to individuals who have donated more than $200,000 to his campaigns, according to TPJ.)