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Late businessman’s family aims to make Washougal site an events center

The Black Pearl has spent years in limbo

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
After almost a decade in limbo, the Black Pearl at the Port of Camas-Washougal may finally open for business as an events center this year. Kim Sherertz, left, and son Cole chat on the second floor in front of its sweeping views of the Columbia River.
After almost a decade in limbo, the Black Pearl at the Port of Camas-Washougal may finally open for business as an events center this year. Kim Sherertz, left, and son Cole chat on the second floor in front of its sweeping views of the Columbia River. Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

WASHOUGAL — Bill Sherertz had vision. Those who knew him say he often saw opportunities before others.

Vision led him to the top of Barrett Business Services, a billion-dollar company. It helped him buy and rebuild a restaurant in Washougal, seeing it as the centerpiece for the city’s future waterfront.

That building now rests in the hands of his widow and two youngest children. Almost exactly seven years after his death, they are today figuring out how to move forward.

The Black Pearl, a two-story glass and concrete box near the Columbia River, will become an events center, Kim Sherertz says. There is work to be done and she is keeping its future open-ended.

“By leaving it wide open and building to capacity … if somewhere down the line, someone wants to do a restaurant, they can,” she said.

After she fixes it up, and with development catching up to Bill Sherertz’s vision, she said the building will practically market itself.

“Just put the word out,” she said. “Everybody is interested in the Black Pearl. And being inside it.”

A forerunner

The Black Pearl was ahead of its time. With panoramic views of the Columbia River and Mount Hood, the 12,000-square-foot cube could plug right into the waterfront developments rising in Clark County today.

Its development began more than eight years ago, led by Sherertz and business partner Russell Brent. Together they bought out a middling restaurant, knocked it over and built the Black Pearl on top. Brent, the restaurateur behind Battle Ground’s Mill Creek Pub, remembers watching Sherertz’s deal-making at work.

“One of Bill’s, well, Bill-isms, was ‘Wait for the deal to come to you, it’ll always get better,’ ” Brent recalled. “He was incredibly patient.”

Their sights were set on the venerable Parker House Restaurant near the Port of Camas-Washougal. Its final ownership group, led by Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Victor Espinoza, had supposedly searched for a buyer but by 2009 had made little headway.

Sherertz had wanted to break into the restaurant business then, Kim Sherertz said. He was in his 60s, with decades already under his belt as CEO and chairman of Barrett Business Services, which offers temporary workers and human resources services to small and midsized companies. By then he was 15 years removed from taking the company public.

When the Black Pearl on the Columbia’s first offer to buy The Parker House was rebuffed, Sherertz advised patience.

“The notes (payable) were coming due and they were going to have to pay. Bill knew that, so he just waited patiently,” Brent said.

Eventually, the Black Pearl group would pay $260,000 for the building and $1.4 million for the property, according to Columbian archives. The previous owners had paid $1.6 million for the property just five years before, according to Clark County property records.

They demolished the Parker House in the summer of 2010, and, as Brent recalls, even during construction Sherertz would change his mind.

“His job, really, was to lay out the vision. My job was to find a way to make it pencil,” said Brent. “And I would snap my pencil in meetings, because Bill would all of a sudden say ‘I want a winery that can hold 10,000 bottles of wine,’ and I knew I’d have to reverse-engineer the plans to sustain the wine cellar that could hold 5,000 to 10,000 bottles.”

Family struggle

Meanwhile, Bill was living with a disease where his bone marrow overproduced blood cells and platelets. It would lead to struggle for both him and the family.

He underwent surgery to remove his enlarged spleen, and doctors told him to keep an eye on the rest of his organs. Then one day he lost his breath while on a hike. Weeks later, and months into building the Black Pearl, he died of lung failure.

Besides becoming a widow and a single mother to two kids, Kim Sherertz suddenly grappled with a sizeable estate, including the $6 million unfinished Black Pearl, a home in Palm Springs, Calif., and their property in Battle Ground. She decided to focus on the children.

“There was no time to focus on the Black Pearl,” she said. She asked contractors to stop construction, button it up and protect it from the elements.

Independence wasn’t new to her. A graduate of Huxley College of the Environment, she earned two undergraduate degrees in land-use planning and environmental science. She had already called out two decades of adventure before she met her husband, including stints as a waitress in a ski town, a city planner and a homebuilder.

But she calls herself a hometown girl, and this current status with the Black Pearl brings her back to where she grew up. Growing up in a boating family, she spent a lot of time around the Port of Camas-Washougal marina.

She eventually gained full control of the Black Pearl, trading the Palm Springs, Calif., home to secure the property. Then she went about trying to market it.

“We had a couple of interesting conversations, but nothing legitimate,” Sherertz said.

Taking the building on for themselves never factored into their thinking, until her son, Cole, pushed her to do so. On a flight back from visiting his sister Elizabeth in Nashville, Tenn., he chatted with an architect and showed him photos of the buildings. The architect said they had something unique and valuable on their hands.

“That was a complete paradigm shift,” Kim Sherertz said. “I always thought we’d sell it, recover some assets and put those to work elsewhere. To hold it as a family asset was a little different.”

In her children and the building, Sherertz sees a chance to finish what her husband started.

Gray shell

The family recently reactivated several construction permits. Plans are to turn the Black Pearl into an events space, hosting everything from weddings to graduation parties to funerals.

Currently it is a “gray shell,” which, in commercial real estate, means there is no plumbing or heat. It has concrete walls and panoramic windows, but the family hopes to get it finished and open by May.

Its long-term use is still a little up in the air, but it could be aided by more development.

Even if the events center brings in a little cash, the building is weighed down somewhat by Bill Sherertz’s vision. It is larger than the needs of most individual restaurants.

That’s why Kim Sherertz says the events business isn’t an endgame for the building. The hope now is to generate interest, then let the waterfront build around it.

Already there are plans to build around the Black Pearl the way Bill Sherertz foresaw. The Port of Camas-Washougal cut the ribbon on a new park last summer, and it entered into an agreement with Killian Pacific to develop approximately 40 acres for mixed commercial and residential uses.

There is also the new Best Western Hotel cater-corner from the building that Kim Sherertz said will help their business.

“I think they will be great friends,” she said. “People will come in for events and it will be convenient to stay there.”

David Ripp, executive director of the port, said he’s happy to see movement on the Black Pearl. He said the building was always a major asset to the waterfront.

“It will definitely complement our project, and vice versa,” he said. “We knew as soon as we started moving forward with ours that it would generate interest (in the Black Pearl).”

Whether or not it becomes a restaurant as originally planned remains to be seen. Brent said, though, that if someone wants to take on the project there is still room at the table.

“I think the market is there,” he said. “Clark County can easily afford to not only take care of The Waterfront Vancouver, but, going east — Camas, Washougal — there are plenty of opportunities for restaurants.”

Columbian staff writer

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