Jon Hempel, a prolific real estate developer who acquired and developed scores of properties in the Twin Cities and beyond, was remembered by his longtime business partner Monday as a tenacious visionary with a great mind for numbers.
Hempel, 47, died Thursday after a three-year battle with brain cancer, according to Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos., one of five companies he founded. He is survived by his wife, Heidi, 10-year-old twins Jack and Eli, and 7-month-old daughter Della.
Hempel Cos. CEO Josh Krsnak said Hempel started the namesake company on a shoestring in 2001. He went on to accomplish “an incredible amount in his short 47 years,” including the acquisition, development or redevelopment of more than 80 properties, Krsnak said.
Hempel Cos. specializes in “turnaround projects and new and reuse development properties with a focus on retail, office and hospitality,” according to the company’s website.
“He left his mark wherever he went,” Krsnak said. “Jon defined optimism and was the most courageous person I knew.”
When Hempel tapped Krsnak as his business partner in 2002, “neither one of us had any money,” Krsnak said in an interview.
“We would put these buildings under contract with no idea how we were going to find the money to buy them, let alone find the money to revive them,” Krsnak said. “It was always Jon who came up with a solution.”
Despite the lack of resources in the early days, it wasn’t long before Hempel started closing on some big deals. In 2006, Hempel acquired his first high-rise, the 25-story UBS Plaza at 444 Cedar St. in downtown St. Paul.
Hempel also oversaw deals that included the conversion of the Midland Bank Building into the 222-room Hotel Minneapolis, and the $23 million acquisition of the 235,000-square-foot Soo Line Building in downtown Minneapolis, among other projects.
“He always had a vision and a plan bigger than the rest of us,” Krsnak said.
On a personal note, Krsnak remembers Hempel as a big personality with a sharp mind. His 6-foot-5 height turned a lot of heads when he walked into a room, and people “gravitated to him,” Krsnak said.
Hempel was “incredibly smart,” he added. “He had a wonderful mind for numbers. He could remember anything.”
The company said Hempel’s death won’t affect its operations and developments. In 2013, Jon Hempel turned the reins over to Krsnak, who subsequently acquired the company.
In a statement, Krsnak said, “to honor Jon’s wishes and to commemorate his vision and tenacity that made Hempel Cos. what it is today, we will continue to proudly operate as Hempel Cos. and develop meaningful projects throughout the communities that we touch.”
The company’s recent projects included Treasure Island Center, an ambitious redevelopment of the former Macy’s department store in downtown St. Paul. Topped by a practice rink for the Minnesota Wild, the project offers 540,000 square feet of office, retail and sports space.
Treasure Island Center was a public-private partnership between the St. Paul Port Authority’s Capital City Partners and Hempel Cos.
Hempel graduated from Hamline University in 1993 with a B.A. in economics, according to his LinkedIn page.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. April 18, at the Mount Olivet Church in Minneapolis.