The Real Deal New York

Son of anarchy: Sean Ludwick’s destructive journey

BlackHouse Development chief’s career marked by controversies, both personal and professional

September 03, 2015 09:00AM
By Mark Maurer

Sean Ludwick main

Sean Ludwick (credits: LinkedIn, Briana E. Heard and Southampton Town Police Department)

Developer Sean Ludwick was wobbling next to his 2013 Porsche, eyes bloodshot and glassy, his breath thick with booze when officers say they found him.

Alerted by neighbors shortly before 2 a.m. on Sunday, police traced a zig-zag of motor oil from Ludwick’s hobbled Porsche to the bruised utility pole down the street, just outside the home of his friend, Douglas Elliman broker Paul Hansen.

Feet from the pole, where the road forks, officers found Hansen’s body. Ludwick had said nothing to them about the accident or that he had a passenger, according to police reports. News outlets reported that Ludwick pulled the partially-ejected Hansen from the car, dumped him outside, and threw his wallet into the woods before driving off on shredded tires.

He spent Sunday and Monday in jail, charged with DWI and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Out on $1 million bond, the co-founder of BlackHouse Development may face charges of vehicular homicide.

Even in an industry rife with knaves and miscreants, Sean Ludwick stands out.

His successful real estate career is punctuated with controversies, both professional and personal. In just the past two years, he’s faced charges of assault and battery in an incident involving a girlfriend, and was also charged with stalking, criminal mischief and aggravated harassment in a case involving a former flame.

Ludwick is also battling with former partners Kuafu Properties and Siras Development over the future of Hudson Rise, a planned 47-story condo and hotel project in Hudson Yards whose fate is now uncertain.

A native son

Like many active New York City developers, Ludwick is a Long Island kid. He grew up in Nassau County and later earned an MBA from the Wharton School.

After stints in management and investment banking, he jumped into acquisitions and development at WCI Communities. In 2007, he launched BlackHouse with Saif Sumaida and Ashwin Verma, who went on to found Siras.

Ludwick said in 2014 that BlackHouse owns over 30 properties in the city and developed roughly $500 million worth of projects, including  Chelsea’s 56-room Hotel Americano.

Through a separate entity, Ludwick China LLC, he raises capital throughout China to buy Manhattan real estate.

A house divided

Though Ludwick has continued to take on more ambitious development projects — his latest is a 46-story condo and hotel tower  at 550-552 West 38th Street — his path is littered with scandal.

In one case in early 2014, he was accused of entering his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and drawing penises on murals he had painted.

In another, he admitted to sufficient facts — a lesser version of a guilty plea under Massachusetts state law — on downgraded charges of assault and battery in a case involving his girlfriend. According to police reports, Ludwick struck his girlfriend, ripped the phone out of the wall when she tried to call the cops, and hit her with the phone.

In February, Kuafu moved to dissolve the Hudson Rise partnership, citing Ludwick’s shenanigans. It also accused him of poor financial judgment related to raising funds for the project.

Siras had already cut ties with Ludwick, announcing that he had no management rights and zero involvement in day-to-day operations of Hudson Rise and the Soori High Line.

In March, Ludwick sued Sumaida and Verma, accusing them of taking credit for his work, exploiting circumstances from his personal life, and locking him out of office space that he leased from Sumaida.

“Beyond his capacity to access his family’s wealth, Verma served no other functional purpose to the company,” Ludwick claimed in his $15 million suit. At the time, Verma told TRD that the complaint was “baseless and also sad and unfortunate.”

Earlier this month, TRD reported that talks to resolve the Hudson Rise issues are already in jeopardy, as Siras, Kuafu and BlackHouse separately seek control of the 380,000-square-foot development.

Sean Ludwick Murals

Two murals painted by Sean Ludwick (credit: Sean Ludwick)

In limbo

It was not immediately clear who would run BlackHouse in Ludwick’s absence. Calls to BlackHouse weren’t returned, and Ludwick’s lawyer Daniel Ollen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Before the accident, Ludwick was looking at new residential development opportunities Downtown and in Midtown, according to sources. As for 550-552 West 38th Street, which Ludwick entered contract in October 2014 to buy for $40 million, the terms of the deal with the seller allow for a 2016 closing date, sources said.

Tortured artist

Brash, outspoken and impulsive, Ludwick seems to possess dueling personalities. His week is incomplete without a couple sessions at the boxing gym and carousing at bars. But he also often paints abstract oil murals, surfs, spends time with his two young sons, and is a yoga aficionado.

“The experience of painting clears my mind and since the murals are rather large, the experience is very physical,” he told TRD last year. In response to the penis-drawing incident, Ludwick told the New York Post that he became unhappy when he learned his girlfriend was cheating on him.

“I augmented my work to reflect my emotions at that moment,” he said.

Sources said Ludwick told them in recent months he was working to rebuild his relationship with his wife, from whom he had been separated.

The aftermath

Ludwick and Hansen’s sons are friends and classmates at the Ross School, the New York Post reported.

Hansen, described as a “larger than life personality,” worked at Elliman’s Sag Harbor office. He also dabbled in development as head of Golden House Management.

At his bail hearing Monday, Ludwick’s lawyer protested the $1 million bond, arguing that his client has strong ties to New York: “A major real estate developer in the United States and across the world, quite frankly,” Ollen said, according to the East Hampton Star.

And given his role in the industry, the controversies will continue to have a ripple effect.

“I don’t know why he would do those things,” Lesya Yanush, a broker who has represented Ludwick on multiple deals, told TRD. “I wonder what’s going to happen to him. … I know him as a nice person. I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through this.”