THE Champs-Elysees, the grand avenue running from the Place de la Concorde to the Arch de Triomphe, has lost some of its grandeur and attraction. Fast-food outlets and other quick-stop businesses have mushroomed where chic hotels and fabled theaters once stood. The row of trees on either side has fallen prey to intense urban life. A rising volume of cars has turned the street into a fuming raceway - or a parking lot, depending on the time of day.
Now the Paris government is pledging to return the avenue to its former glory. As if acknowledging the difficulty of the task ahead, Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac says it will take five years and $30 million to do the job.
Concern about the grande dame of Parisian avenues, which dates from the reign of Louis XIV, is not new: Already at the start of this century defenders lamented its ``banalization.''
But new attention to the plight of ``les Champs,'' as Parisians refer to the street with typical familiarity, kindled in 1988 when plans became known to develop the site of Fouquet's restaurant into something more profitable. Fouquet's, one of last functioning reminders of a bygone period of elegance and exclusive wealth on the avenue, was saved by the minister of culture's declaring it a national ``place of memory.''
Mayor Chirac's plan is not so interested in returning the Champs-Elysees to a snobbish past as in maintaining and enhancing its attraction as an internationally known promenade.
In line with that, the secondary service lanes that brought cars and parking closer to buildings will be removed, resulting in 65-foot-wide sidewalks. A second row of trees will be planted, and the walks will be covered with granite. To give the avenue a sense of uniformity and distinction, a special ``Champs-Elysees design'' will be created for the street's urban furniture, from street lights and newspaper kiosks to benches and trash bins.
That, along with the mayor's plan to establish an annual party on the avenue, will probably be the easy part. More difficult will be Chirac's hope to see grand hotels and theaters return to ``les Champs.'' No one expects the fast-food restaurants to go away, and the prospect of settling in next to one is not likely to tempt a relocation of the Ritz.