Crow Holdings has had an eventful 2023.

The iconic Dallas company is expanding its headquarters in Old Parkland. It launched a $2.8 billion fund to invest in small retail properties. It’s making forays into solar energy. And, oh yes, Board Chairman Harlan Crow is under national scrutiny for providing financial support to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

While the waters are tricky to navigate, chief executive Michael Levy hails from New York. He’s used to a little chaos. After the 2008 financial crisis, Levy helped Morgan Stanley rebuild. Harlan, the third son of real estate legend Trammell Crow, lured him to Texas in 2017 to head Crow Holdings.

The business development firm Trammell Crow Company (now owned by CBRE) and Crow Holdings were both formed by Trammell Crow in 1948 but were separate entities. Crow Holdings focuses on residential and capital investments and is still owned by the Crow family. Crow Holdings’ companies include Trammell Crow Residential, Crow Holdings Capital, Crow Holdings Industrial and Crow Holdings Office.

In the early 1980s, patriarch Trammell Crow passed the CEO torch to Harlan, who grew Crow Holdings to its current valuation of $30 billion Dollar. Levy was hired after a nationwide recruiting process because Harlan wanted to take on a board role and spend more time focusing on philanthropy and political involvement.

In Dallas, Crowe was a household name, a mainstay of local and state politics and one of the city’s most important families. But following a scathing probe by ProPublica in April, Harlan Crow has become nationally known as a right-wing billionaire who has been offering vacations and financial aid to conservative Supreme Court justices.

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, he explained the origins of his 30-year friendship with Thomas and claimed that none of it was based on political favoritism.

“I think the media, especially this ProPublica group, which is funded by the left, has a destabilizing agenda. [Supreme] Court,” Crowe told the media. “What they did was not real. It lacks integrity. “

Stephen Engelberg, editor-in-chief of ProPublica, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization funded by 36,000 donors, responded.

Crow Holdings has yet to make any formal statement about the investigation, and neither has its opinionated chief executive.when real deal When Levy was asked if the investigation had any impact on Crowe Holdings’ business or his relationship with Harlan, his answer was short and sweet.

“No comment, Harlan is an unbelievable guy,” Levy said.

While Levy wouldn’t talk specifically about Harlan and Clarence Thomas, he did encourage real estate to get involved in politics.

“The business community in America has really given up on local politics. Dallas just had a city council election and 8.8 percent of the people voted … 8.8,” Levy said. “I encourage every business person in every city to make this a priority. Fund the right candidates, fund the cause, get involved, get to know your people. I think engagement is critical and I do my best Can, but I’m one voice.”

Levy maintains that he and Harlan have maintained a close relationship both in and out of business since they first met.

“When I first came to Dallas to talk about the job, I met Harlan Crow…I didn’t know what to expect, but what I got was this kind, thoughtful, funny, humane guy who just wanted to discuss: Who am I and where do I come from?” he said. “The conversation wasn’t business at all. It was more, ‘Tell me about your grandparents.’ ’ I left a few hours later and said, ‘Wow.'”

Local positioning, global ambitions

Levy said the firm’s investment activity has fallen by about 90% as the firm has taken a wait-and-see approach to the market.

The company will continue to be rooted in multifamily residential and industrial assets, but is now focused on expanding into solar development while investing in capital markets globally. Levy said the company is scaling its customer engagement and marketing staff to compete with top players.

“We are a private U.S. company whose name is not on the lips of global real estate investors like Blackstone,” Levy said. “I see the size of the customer engagement teams at household names. They’ve made a lot of internal investment that I would say has outstripped – no pun intended – their actual track record in terms of investment. So we’ll continue committed to it.”

Levy’s love of Dallas stemmed from concerns about the direction the city was headed. The woes of major cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles could also be happening here, he said.

While the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis stands out as the No. 1 real estate market and fastest-growing city, the city of Dallas actually saw a slight decline in population, Levy noted.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the city’s population in July 2022 to be 1,299,544, compared to 1,304,317 in April 2021.

People perceive Dallas as a business-friendly city, but that perception actually comes from the surrounding area, Levy said.

Take Frisco, for example. A decade ago, the suburb was vacant and is now building a Universal theme park to match the headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys and the PGA of America. Meanwhile, the Dallas Builders Association last year compared the Dallas City Permit Center to a 1960s bomb shelter, which can take up to six months to get approved. After that, the city plans to build a new permit center.

“We’re going to end up with an unhealthy urban core,” Levy said. “All of these nodes will do well as the urban core needs to change in how it interacts with the business community.”

It took Crow Holdings nearly 10 months to get approval from the city and the Oak Lawn Neighborhood Council for the nine-story office expansion in Old Parkland, he said.

“This complex revitalized Oak Lawn, a protracted battle for approval that came to a very painful end. This is unacceptable, it shouldn’t be happening, and it’s happening across the city, said Levi.

“Says ‘I want to build a warehouse,’ but the city says, ‘What I want is low-income housing.'” The economics of low-income housing don’t make sense, and I can bring in jobs and taxes and build this warehouse here . I sympathize with the city’s goals, but it’s just a matter of economics. Since it takes time for things to get approved, that’s why people say ‘whatever, I’m going to Frisco. ‘”

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