Man who cheated death calls push to revive building a labour of love
Just a few years ago, both Randy Diestelmann and the “extremely derelict” Ford City building he had recently bought were — according to the experts — basically teardowns.
Diestelmann, a contractor for more than 25 years and former chairman of the Ford City Business Improvement Association, said he died three separate times while in hospital for heart surgeries and sepsis complications in London in 2017 and 2018.
At one point, he was in a coma on life support and one day shy of the 14-day deadline he had set in his will to be “unplugged,” when he remarkably revived.
He's spent the last three years recovering, teaching himself to walk and dress. There's no feeling in his left hand and only half-feeling in his right.
The same sort of brink-of-death story can be told of the 100-yearold structure at 1024-1026 Drouillard Rd. he bought 41/2 half years ago, just before his health deteriorated. It was in such bad shape it was slated for demolition, he said.
City officials had issued multiple work orders on it. Diestelmann bought it “as is” — a “huge risk” he took on because he saw potential where others did not.
“It's a labour of love for me,” Diestelmann, 51, said this week. “I fell in love with the building when I moved to the neighbourhood 12 years ago and I always said to myself, if it goes up for sale I'm going to buy it.
“People said, `It's a piece of s..t, it's about to fall over.' Yeah, it was rough. It still looks rough, but we're getting really close.”
Council on Monday will consider Diestelmann's application to the Ford City Community Improvement Plan that provides incentives for building improvements, helping to revive the once down-andout neighbourhood that's now on the rise.
He's recommended for $30,000 in grants to help him convert the bottom floor from residential to two retail stores, $30,000 for renovations to the facade and $61,210 in tax rebates over 10 years.
“It's going to look like it did when it was first built. The hope is it's going to last for another 100 years,” said Diestelmann, adding what makes the building one of a kind is its second-floor balcony across the entire frontage of the structure. “There's not anything like that building anywhere in Windsor,” he said, outlining his plans to restore it and live on the top floor.
“We've ordered the windows and they'll all be awning-style and they're all going to open. And we're going to put some cool lights outside, we're going to put pennant lights on the balcony.
“We're going to put a swing up there. I'm going to put a big deck out back. It's going to be a cool space.”
Shane Potvin, the current BIA chair, said Diestelmann, who owns several properties in Ford City, is the “actual epitome of the Phoenix, rising from the ashes.”
There were a couple of buildings in that 1000 block — ground zero of Ford City's ongoing rebirth — that were in terrible shape, and 10241026 Drouillard was one of them, an “extremely derelict building,” Potvin said.
“I think once it's finished people will really notice it because it sticks out like a sore thumb prior to this, and when it's done I think it will look awesome.”
Diestelmann's CIP application is a great example of the CIP money doing some real good, by converting a long-vacant wreck of a building into flourishing retail/ commercial, said Potvin.
Good friend Brian Bashucki said Diestelmann's journey has been a slow road.
“Here's a man who, five, six years ago, could do anything, build anything, and when he came out of his last bout he could not hold his own toothbrush,” he said.
He said the way Diestelmann has taken on this project has been amazing.
“In a way, it's been like therapy because he's sort of forced himself to do what he used to do years ago. In a sense, it's revitalized him.”
Diestelmann said the past four or five years have been a “wild ride.”
After coming down with symptoms in 2016, he had open-heart surgery in 2017 to replace two valves. The following year, he developed sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection he believes came from a tattoo he'd gotten depicting a heart with a big zipper.
The sepsis had attacked and destroyed one of his transplanted valves. He was airlifted to London and was given a low chance of surviving the arduous surgery. Some of the doctors didn't want to do it.
“I had a few (three) cardiac arrests, had multiple open-heart surgeries, had a valve replacement again, I was on life support and I was in a coma,” he said, describing how he is still recovering.
“I'm lucky to be alive. It sure beats the alternative.”