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ALBERTVILLE AREA TRIES TO DEAL WITH DEFICIT’S CHILL

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A single pylon, like the lonely support for a packed-up circus tent, is all that marks the site of the opening and closing ceremonies at last year's Winter Olympics.

Across a field of mud, the speedskating arena is now a soccer field. In town, merchants still try to capture that Olympic esprit, with posters and stuffed mascots in their windows."More tourists than usual came here last summer, but they were disappointed," says Roger Tronc, whose Albertville hardware store is crammed with '92 Olympic sweatshirts, key chains, pins and jigsaw puzzles - at 40 percent off. "There's nothing to see so people just drive right through."

Some of the 13 resorts and towns that made up the Olympic venues reaped handsome benefits from publicity and the highways, dams and sewage plants built for the Winter Games.

But others are saddled with huge debts from feverish preparations. Numerous enterprises, particularly in construction, have folded, and the number of jobless in the Albertville basin rose by 33 percent in 1992.

Worst off are the small Savoy region communities that hosted low-profile Olympic events or facilities. Les Saisies, site of cross-country skiing and biathlon, acknowledges a deficit of $500,000. Tiny Pralognan-la-Vanoise spent $1 million on a curling stadium it couldn't afford.

Hardest hit of all was Brides-les-Bains, a hot springs resort that was the athletes' village and is now scrambling for creditors to cover its $13.2 million debt.

The community, population 618, spent $40 million to pay for work, including a cable car connecting Brides to the popular ski resort of Meribel.

"The banks told us it was an enormous sum for such a small town," says Danielle Fechoz, the town's financial officer. "The cable car has proven itself a great tool, but we have to see what February and March bring."

December brought welcome news: In the final two weeks of that month, the cable car made $300,000.

The same month, Lionel Comte opened Brides-les-Bains' first ski shop, now that people stay there in winter thanks to the new link to the slopes.

Business is good, but "there's nothing really to show that this was the athletes' village," Comte says. "They should have kept a flame or something."

Overall, the organizing committee left a deficit of $57 million. The French government paid 75 percent.

The deficit was due largely to the ski jump and bobsled-luge track, for which environmental and safety concerns forced adjustments that cost tens of millions of dollars.

La Plagne can't pay the $754,000 annual maintenance cost of the bobsled run, but to minimize losses it opened the track to thrillseekers who pay to rocket down its icy chute.

"Before the Olympics, Savoy was known as ski country, but never for ice sports," said Michel Barnier, organizing committee co-president. "We've had good hotel occupancy with the resorts filled over Christmas, the first time in six or seven years, and we're getting a 20 percent increase in visitors."

But it's tough on Savoyards such as Stephane Trillaud, a building contractor in Moutiers.

"Construction firms have had to lay off a third of their workers," he says. "It's a cold shower, and we have only one winter left before the Lillehammer Olympics. When they come around, people will forget about us."

Organizers sold $6 million of computer equipment to Lillehammer, but little else.

Officials expect the real money to come from tourism. To do so the Olympic resorts formed an alliance to promote business with tour operators.

To pay for its state-of-the-art hockey rink, Meribel is seeking investors for a $7.5 million project to add a hotel, bowling alley, restaurants and nightclub, Choffel said.

But even the cynical wax nostalgic.

"All of a sudden, the party was over," says Tronc, the Albertville kitschmeister. "But it was a terrific adventure. It was simply in the air. We had a blast."