June 12 2013 12:00 AM

'Discount Dave' selling former Cadillac Club to Riverview Church


Inside the former Cadillac Club in REO Town, Dave Sheets’ desk is wedged into one end of what used to be the bar. On what was once the dance floor, a leather sectional sits, festooned with a giant price tag. Couches, chairs, desks and dressers, also plastered with price tags, pack the rest of the 20,000-square-foot space. 

For 40 years, Sheets, 61, has been known as either “Discount Dave” or “the Mattress King,” and for four as “Dave Sheets, owner of the Cadillac Club.” But Sheets’ Discount Dave’s Buy-It-Rite, which used to be next door, burned to the ground in 2009, and what was left was moved into this space, the former club. 

And now he’s about to ditch all of those monikers. Sheets has agreed to sell the building to the Holt-based Riverview Church.

The church’s vision for Sheets’ space includes a room dedicated to Sunday worship, a banquet hall that could be rented for weddings or other special events and a potential coffee shop that would be open daily. The idea would be to create a bustling center of activity that would see more than just Sabbath traffic.

And if the sale goes through, it will come with Sheets’ liquor license. 

“Our lawyer is still trying to figure out what we’ll do with that — the idea would be to use it in our banquet hall,” said Dan Price, one of the church’s pastors. “But the rumors are totally untrue that we’re going to be brewing beer. Years ago, the Journal wrote a story that said we were brewing in the church’s basement. We don’t even have a basement.” 

(That February 2008 Journal story profiled RiverBrew, a ministry of Riverview that met over a few beers “to be an entry point into the church,” as ministry leader Brett Maxwell said at the time. Price said the ministry only lasted about a year.)

Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope said the church would need a special land use permit to operate on the commercially zoned property, which has never been zoned for church purposes. The permit will require City Council approval, which will likely be brought up in the next 90 days. Price said the final price — he requested the price range not be published — was contingent on that permit. However, even if that price comes in on the higher end, Sheets still stands to lose about three quarters of the $2 million he invested in the building to transform it from a bowling alley into a supper club and to operate it.

Sheets shuttered the Cadillac Club five years ago this month for lack of business. When it opened in September 2004, it was called in a City Pulse story “an all-American sandwich of pop-culture zing and pseudo-class,” stocked with statues of the Blues Brothers and the Rat Pack, and the gleaming hoods and trunks of dismembered Cadillacs adorning the walls. It looked like a ’50s-era Las Vegas lounge crossed with a cruise ship showroom. Now it’s a cluttered makeshift furniture store. 

But that’s not what Price sees when he looks at it. 

“This space is going to fit our needs perfectly,” Price said. “For years, we’ve wanted to become a neighborhood church, and this move to REO Town will help us accomplish that. There seems to be a lot of friendship there — we like what’s going on. That whole area seems to be on the cusp of coming back. We’re excited about the future.” 

The coffee shop, if it materializes in the final plans, could help alleviate the dead space in the heart of REO Town that would be created by the banquet hall and worship space, which wouldn’t see much use throughout the week. The east side of Old Town and the 600 block of Michigan Avenue in downtown Lansing both accommodate faith-based programs in potential shopping or entertainment districts — Christian Family Fellowship Church and City Rescue Mission, respectively — and noticeably suffer from a lack of retail foot traffic. Price’s would-be neighbors, however, seem to be open to the idea, for the most part.  

“If it brings people down here, then I’m cool with it,” said Paul Trowbridge, owner of Cuttin Up Barber Shop that opened a couple doors down from the Cadillac Club last November. “More the merrier. As long as it’s not an empty building — I’m tired of looking at eyesores.” 

Ryan Wert, owner of the nearby Elm Street Recording studio and a prominent REO Town advocate, said he also approves of the potential new owners. 

“I’m not much of a church guy, but I know some of the Riverview people and they’re pretty awesome,” Wert said. “They seem to have a vision for the space, and they’re going to make the best use of it as anyone I know.”

The REO Town location would be the church’s third. Riverview has locations on Willoughby Road in Holt as well as on Michigan State University’s campus in Erickson Hall, which is a once-a-week venue. 

“We’re always looking at ways to love Lansing better,” Price said.  

Another Riverview pastor, Noel Heikkinen, said the church wants to be good neighbors in REO Town. “We know that’s an area the city wants to develop, so we’re not going to make any problems for them. We just want to be part of the urban environment,” he said.

Although REO Town is on the rebound, Sheets might have found it difficult to reopen the club because of liquor violations and problems with the city that occurred when it was up and running.

Regardless, he sounded very ready to move on. He said the Cadillac Club essentially drained his life savings. When asked if he regretted anything, he paused before answering. 

“Looking back, I guess I was way too early,” Sheets said. “I’ve always been a step ahead, but this time it cost me. I basically just blazed a path for the next guy.”