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October 17, 2021

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Tony Hsieh, Zappos icon who helped revitalize downtown Las Vegas, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh in the Ogden

Steve Marcus

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, poses in the Ogden in downtown Las Vegas Thursday, June 7, 2012.

Updated Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020 | 9:47 a.m.

Tony Hsieh

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is seen in one of his rooms at the Ogden Friday, April 13, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Tony Hsieh brought Zappos, his Amazon-owned shoe company, to downtown Las Vegas in 2013. He also brought a vision of creating “the co-learning and co-working capital of the world,” investing $350 million in DTP Companies to transform the area into a modern-day tech landing spot.

The company developed Container Park to bring a central recreation and dining destination, and built the sleek Fremont9 apartments, among other developments.

“It’s just been really cool seeing the evolution of this area,” Hsieh said in 2015.

Hsieh, who unexpectedly died Friday, is being remembered as someone who wasn’t afraid to take risks, which for downtown Las Vegas resulted in a multimillion-dollar personal investment to turn the area north of the Strip into a refurbished tech hub. He was 46.

Megan Fazio, spokeswoman for DTP Companies, confirmed Hsieh’s passing in an email. No cause of death was announced.

“Tony’s kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone around him and forever brightened the world,” DTP Companies said in a statement. “Delivering happiness was always his mantra, so instead of mourning his transition, we ask you to join us in celebrating his life.”

Shortly after the online shoe and apparel retailer was founded in 1999, Hsieh — already an established businessman after founding and later selling an online advertising platform — started as CEO of Zappos, eventually moving it to the former City Hall building in downtown. He stepped down in August after more than 20 years and moved to Utah.

“Everything Tony did in helping rebuild downtown was energized, mesmerizing and exciting for our city,” Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in August when Hsieh retired. “He’s a modest person. He’s not a braggart, but he loves to do things that are different and challenging. When everyone is swimming downstream, he is swimming upstream.”

Hotelier Derek Stevens posted on Twitter that Hsieh "changed the landscape of downtown Las Vegas ... Our community will miss him greatly, rest in peace. I will miss him greatly."

Added Gov. Steve Sisolak in a post: "Tony Hsieh played a pivotal role in helping transform" downtown Las Vegas. "Kathy and I send our love and condolences to Tony's family and friends during this difficult time."

Las Vegas Councilman Cedric Crear also shared his condolences, "Very saddened to hear of the passing of Tony Hsieh," Crear wrote on Twitter. "Such a creative and innovative person who positively helped change the landscape" of downtown.

The Zappos CEO founded Downtown Project in 2012, a $350 million venture dedicated to revitalizing Las Vegas’ downtown core through investments in small business, education, residential developments and the arts.

Harry Reid Tours Downtown with Tony Hsieh

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) finishes a tour of downtown Las Vegas with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, right, in front of the Las Vegas Container Park Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Some of its enduring successes include the Life is Beautiful festival, 9th Bridge School, Downtown Container Park, Inspire Theater, Fremont9 and more. Most recently, he spearheaded the renovation of a defunct Fremont Street property, Fergusons, from a motel to a shopping and retail complex. Fergusons is immediately adjacent to the Airstream trailer park Hsieh called home until he relocated to Park City, Utah, this past summer.

Hsieh stepped back from an active role in Downtown Project, now called DTP Companies, concurrently with his retirement from Zappos, though earlier this year DTP Companies' Fazio claimed that Hsieh’s role has been largely “visionary” since “a few years after (DTP’s) inception.”

“Tony was highly regarded by all of his fellow friends and colleagues in the tight-knit family at DTP Companies, so this heartbreaking tragedy is one that affects many involved,” DTP Companies said in a statement.

Hsieh’s influence in the rebirth of downtown can’t be overstated, the area’s business leaders are saying.

“Tony was a true visionary and champion of downtown Las Vegas,” Downtown Vegas Alliance said in a statement. “His purchase of the former city hall, his relocation of Zappos to downtown and his significant investment in businesses large and small throughout the area, were a spark and a catalyst for downtown revitalization.”

At Zappos, Hsieh’s approach to running a company was ahead of its time, as the building layout of an open floor plan and no corner offices was designed to empower employees. Customer service reps were said to have the same authority of Hsieh to handle complaints.

The organization culture was detailed in Hsieh’s New York Times bestseller, “Delivering Happiness.” Culture was so important in the company’s growth that Zappos would offer new hires $2,000 to quit after they completed orientation if they felt the company wasn’t the right fit.

“Tony played such an integral part in helping create the thriving Zappos business we have today, along with his passion for helping to support and drive our company culture,” Zappos CEO Kedar Deshpande said in a statement.

Staff writers Ray Brewer, Geoff Carter and Ricardo Torres-Cortez contributed to this story.