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It's 3:30 on a drizzly Whistler afternoon the weekend before Easter and the village is crawling with shoppers intent on getting the perfect T-shirt for someone back home. When it rains in Whistler it often pours money in the multitude of retail shops lining the village, as visitors scuttle about, traveller's cheques poised to be signed. But off in the corner of the village, across from the conference centre, retailers are painting a different picture. It's Friday afternoon and you could fire a rifle through the hallway of the Timberline Shops Mall and not hit a soul. Since the demise of Buffalo Bill's night club and the closure of the Timberline Restaurant, retailers in the Timberline say foot traffic has declined sharply in the mall and their businesses are suffering. Last week, all 10 of the Timberline retailers sent a letter to the LPF Management Group Ltd. asking for a rent reduction in April, May and June because of the lack of shoppers while the night club and restaurant spaces remain closed. The Timberline is owned by the Labourers' Pension Plan of B.C. Buffalo Bill's was closed in April of 1994. "The request has been passed on to the board (of the Labourers' Pension Fund) and they will be looked at to see if they have any validity," says Brenda Marco, general manager of LPF Management Group, the company which manages the Timberline retail space. Marco says LPF is aware of the retailers' concerns, but she says the company "will try to work with their tenants if they are having difficulties." "We are trying to determine from an owner's standpoint if their concerns are valid," Marco says. "If any retailer could have a reduction in rent they would go for it now, wouldn't they?" A number of the Timberline retailers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say they signed leases thinking the restaurant and club would be open. The Timberline mall is a dead-end, the lack of lighting at night does not slow foot traffic and draw passers-by into the shops, some retailers say. The Labourer's Pension Fund also owns Club Monaco, the shop with the most exposure facing the village. Timberline merchants say the Labourers often shut Club Monaco down at 6 p.m. while the rest of the mall merchants remain open until 9 p.m. "With the restaurant, Bill's and Club Monaco closed the whole mall area looks deserted," says one disgruntled shop owner. "People don't even come down here because it looks closed, but there's some little retailers in the back of the building trying to stay alive." Marco says the argument that having Buffalo Bill's closed reduces shopping traffic is not valid. However, one Timberline retailer says they would look at increasing late night hours to catch people lined up at the club and people waiting in line often window shop and return the next day. "When there are 2,000 people in the village and 10 come in your store, there definitely is a problem," says one retailer. The retailers have been told by hotel management that they have been courting a number of "high profile" clients who may be interested in taking over the restaurant space. The entire Timberline Hotel has been for sale over the past few months, but interest has not been high. In early March, the B.C. Labourer's Pension Fund filed their financial statements for the fiscal year ending April 30, 1994 and auditor Topping, Eyton and Partners revealed the picture is not good. "For the fiscal years ended April 30, 1994, 1993 and 1992, the revenue derived from contributions and investment income has not been sufficient to meet operating and pension expenditures. During the same period, assets available to meet such expenditures have declined significantly in value," the auditors report outlines. The financial statements also show the fund's net assets shrank from $78.8 million to $68.5 million during 1993-94 and 86 per cent of those funds were tied up in real estate. This spells bad news for the 1,788 pensioners and 95 beneficiaries waiting to collect on their pension contributions. Provincial legislation which came into effect last year stipulates only 25 per cent of a pension fund's assets can be in real estate. The Timberline accounts for roughly 10 per cent of the Labourers assets. Timberline manager John Burg could not be reached for comment.

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