February 27, 2006

Turin hopes for new, post-Fiat, post-Olympic future

By Jane Barrett

TURIN (Reuters) - Before the Winter Olympics, most of Turin
griped about the Games -- the traffic chaos while a new subway
was built, the dust from building sites, the sense that those
millions would be better spent on them than on sport.

By the time the skating and skiing ended, however, many had
been won over by the Olympic spirit and hoped that 16 days in
the international spotlight would translate into great things
for a depressed city.

For the last century, Turin's fortunes have been
inextricably linked with Fiat.

While Fiat prospered as Europe's largest carmaker, Turin
rolled in riches, attracting workers from all over Italy and
generating a lively economy. When Fiat fell, beaten almost to a
pulp by global competition, the city sank into a deep gloom.

"Over the last few years, we became poorer and poorer,
thousands of people were laid off and we were forgotten by the
rest of Italy, left to rot in a corner," said Pietro Airaudo,
72, as he sipped his morning coffee opposite an Olympic venue.

"Now, the world has come to us and realized that Turin is a
place they like to be. Even we had stopped believing that," he

The northwestern town normally loses out on the tourist
trail to Italy's art-stuffed cities like Florence, Rome and
Venice, or to the fashion, style and opera of Milan.

Over the last year, Turin has featured more in the media
than ever before, and for once because of its history, shops
and cafes, not just Fiat.

"It's amazing how people are enjoying Turin for Turin. Now
we hope they will tell their friends back home and tourism will
take off," said taxi driver Davide Rocco.


Turin's mayor Sergio Chiamparino reckons one million people
came to the city and surrounding areas during the Games,
doubling their normal population.

If, at the start, Turin disliked the influx, the sudden
exodus could also cause problems.

"We must avoid the depression factor," Chiamparino said, as
Turin's bigwigs turn their minds to the legacy of the Games.

For Chiamaparino, desperate to revive the city and foster
new business to make up for Fiat's now-reduced presence, one of
the most important hangovers is the Olympic accommodation and
infrastructure, including the new metro line.

Between 40 percent and half of the rooms built for
athletes, coaches and journalists will become public housing
for low-income families. About 1,000 rooms will be used by the
university and the remaining third will be sold on the market.

Some of the ice rinks will be turned into museums or
exhibition centers and Turin will bid to host the 2007 speed
skating championships, feeding Italy's new passion for the
sport after Enrico Fabris won two golds.

Valentino Castellani, the head of the Games organizing
committee, also glimpsed a rich sporting legacy thanks to
Italians like Fabris and luge gold medallist Armin Zoeggeler.

"In the past, people associated Italian winter sports with
skiing, thanks to the success of athletes like Alberto Tomba
and Deborah Compagnoni. But now Italians have discovered ice
sports and children will start to practice them," he told