Frank Warren Preeshl would hop in his 1951 Ford and drive 50,000 miles a year around Minnesota in the middle of the last century — searching for water towers and manhole covers. Or, more accurately, he was looking for towns lacking those features.

Then a young municipal bond salesman, Preeshl is credited with sweet-talking some 300 Minnesota communities into going into debt to make improvements from streets to sewers. Later, as a major seller of tax-free industrial revenue bonds, he helped spur development of such projects as Energy and Mears parks in St. Paul and Calhoun Square and the International Market Square in Minneapolis.

Preeshl died May 17 at the St. Anthony Park Nursing Home in St. Paul. He was 91 and family members said he died of natural causes. He had just asked a nurse for a shot of brandy. When she returned, he had died.

“He died looking forward to a small pleasure,” said his wife, Shirley Campbell.

“His legacy on Minnesota was huge,” said John Clarey, an investment banker who worked with Preeshl from the 1970s to the early ’90s. “Politicians and developers were always written up, but this is the guy who actually made it happen.”

Born in Minneapolis in 1922, Preeshl grew up in the Wisconsin towns of Eau Claire, Glenwood City and New Richmond, where he graduated from high school in 1939. He attended California Institute of Technology for one year on a scholarship before enlisting in the U.S. Civilian Technical Corps, providing support for Allied forces in World War II.

He spent five years with the Air Force in Great Britain before graduating with an economics degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1948. He worked as an underwriter for Juran & Moody Municipal Bonds from 1950-65, Western Funding from 1966-72, First Northwest Co. and became a vice president at Miller & Schroeder Municipals, a Bloomington firm that ranked among the top 10 municipal bond underwriters in the nation.

Preeshl also spent six years on the Burnsville school board, including a two-year stint as chairman in the early ’70s.

But bond selling was his forte. The St. Paul Port Authority, the city’s development arm, was among his major clients and his projects generated more than 10,000 jobs in St. Paul alone.

“People probably think our business is dull because we work with a lot of numbers,” Preeshl told the Star Tribune’s Dick Youngblood in 1984. “But then, all of a sudden, buildings start going up. That’s what’s exciting.”

Preeshl helped draft 1967 state legislation defining industrial revenue bonds. Those bonds, backed by the corporations using them, were issued by municipalities and were thus tax-free.

That law has sparked billions of dollars in development, including the Munsingwear building transformation into the International Market Square and Energy Park in St. Paul.

“His mind had no boundaries,” Clarey said. “He could shuffle the pieces of a development with ease and talent and was a wonderful, soft-spoken and gentle guy.”

In addition to his wife, Shirley, of St. Paul, Preeshl is survived by sister Ruth Johnson of New Richmond; daughters Beth Englund of Fergus Falls, Minn., Tasse Anderberg Geffert of Roseville, Artemis Preeshl of New Orleans; son Philip Preeshl of St. Paul; stepdaughters Rachel Fang of St. Paul and Daisy Pellant of Cambridge, Mass., and nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

An informal memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Preeshl home. Call 651-645-6069 for information.