One of Kakaako’s most prominent developers plans to seek more than $200 million in damages from city taxpayers over property that’s needed for the future rail line, according to new documents released by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

The HART board is poised on Thursday to approve an additional $7 million in legal fees for its eminent domain lawsuit against Howard Hughes Corp. and the Texas-based company’s local subsidiary, Victoria Ward, Ltd.

The new total for those fees will exceed $23 million with the board’s approval. Initially, the HART board approved just $4.6 million for the legal effort, according to a slide presentation prepared for Thursday’s board meeting.

HART Rail Guideway columns near Eliot Street and Daniel Inouye International Airport.
Rail’s guideway proceeds near Elliott Street and the Honolulu airport. HART says Howard Hughes Corp. will seek $200 million in damages for the 2.2 acres it owns in Kakaako that’s needed for the line. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The legal fees, which have more than quadrupled, benefit two law firms representing the city against Howard Hughes: Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher and Nossaman, LLP.

Among the directors at the first firm are Doug Chin, the former Hawaii lieutenant governor and attorney general, and Ivan Lui Kwan, a former chairman of the volunteer HART board. (Nossaman does not list a Hawaii office on its website.)

The condemnation suit centers on two acres of land needed along the route between Cooke and Kamakee streets. The city and Howard Hughes have been at an impasse for several years over its value.

The city previously offered Howard Hughes some $13.5 million for the Kakaako land needed for rail. At one point, however, Howard Hughes suggested the area needed was worth about $100 million more than the city’s offer, according to federal oversight reports. The slide presentation prepared for Thursday suggests the developer will now seek far more.

In 2020, the city’s impasse with Howard Hughes was described as the “largest real estate dollar risk on the (rail) project.” The matter is now scheduled to go to trial in May.

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