SALT LAKE CITY -- It was only two years ago that Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi flew here and, in his typically flamboyant style, threw a grand party to celebrate his latest vision for the city's downtown.

Dignitaries from the governor to the president of the Mormon Church were on hand as Khashoggi boasted of the glittering $600 million downtown complex his U.S. holding company, Triad America Corp., planned to build. It was to be anchored by two gold-colored 43-story office towers that would dwarf the nearby Mormon Church office building, the tallest structure in town.

This spring, however, construction on the project suddenly stopped, leaving an unseemly dirt hole two blocks from the Mormon Tabernacle. Most of Triad America's corporate staff of nearly 100 has been laid off, chunks of the company's property have been foreclosed and 47 lawsuits have been filed against it, mostly from creditors demanding more than $100 million in unpaid notes and bills.

These and other disclosures have angered many local officials who have accused Khashoggi, who played a key role in helping to finance the secret U.S. shipment of arms to Iran, of, in essence, skipping town without paying his bills.

"We've been putting up with this for over a year. And I'm getting a little frustrated," said Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, once an avid booster of the company. "I understand he {Khashoggi} is reputed to be the world's richest person. I think the question we have is, here's this guy flying around in a gold-plated plane . . . so why can't he make good on his debts?"

"People here feel like they've been had," said one lawyer, whose client is suing Triad for unpaid debts. "A lot of banks loaned Triad money because Khashoggi was behind it, but they never made him put his name on anything. And now they're left holding the bag."

The list of those that say Triad owes them money includes not only banks, construction firms, insurance companies, architects and office suppliers, but the LDS Hospital, to which Khashoggi pledged $1.37 million for a new medical education building but provided $300,000.

Even the local ballet company says it was shortchanged: Last year, Ballet West borrowed money from a local bank to put on a spectacular, highly praised production of "Abdallah" (a tale from "The Arabian Nights") that made it to the Kennedy Center in Washington. Ballet West was able to get the loan based on a promised $150,000 contribution from Triad America. But as of last week, only $50,000 had been received. The ballet company this year has had to shave its budget and cut back its schedule as a result.

"We felt they had made an honorable pledge, but the problem is: I'm the one with his signature on the note," said ballet general manager Alan Hall. "It's severely hurt us."

The financial problems of Triad America have attracted new attention in recent weeks because of disclosures about Khashoggi's role in providing $31 million in "bridge loans" to help finance the Reagan administration's secret arms shipments to Iran. Where Khashoggi got all the money is unclear. There have been persistent reports -- that Khashoggi has denied -- that he was acting on behalf of the Saudi government.

While providing no definitive answers, court records and interviews with knowledgeable sources shed some light on the transactions. They indicate that Khashoggi, experiencing personal and corporate financial problems, put up his U.S. corporate assets to raise at least some of the cash for the arms shipments. Moreover, the failure of Khashoggi to earn anticipated profits on the arms sales has apparently contributed to his financial difficulties here.

The relationship between Khashoggi's arms financing and Triad America's problems in Salt Lake City may become clearer as depositions in one of the lawsuits are taken this week. Lawyers for the Sheraton Corp. have alleged that Khashoggi is "dismembering" his company in part to repay two Canadian investors who helped him finance the arms shipments.

While company lawyers have denied the allegations in court, one Triad executive has confirmed that Khashoggi transferred $84 million in Triad America funds out of the country in recent years to support his overseas business ventures.

Khashoggi's executive assistant in New York, Robert Shaheen, said Friday that Khashoggi was out of the country and would not be available for an interview for 15 days. A secretary who answered the telephone in Triad America's office last week said no one was available over the New Year's holiday to comment on company affairs. Lawyers for the company did not return several phone calls.

However, court records and sources here provide the following account: Last March, during the same period that he was financing the arms deal, Khashoggi pledged Triad America assets and his stock in a Triad affiliate called American Barrick Resources to secure four personal loans totaling $31 million from Vertex Finances SA, a Cayman Islands investment company. The company is controlled by two Canadian business associates of Khashoggi, one of whom, Donald Fraser, was installed last September as president of Triad.

One of these loans, for $10 million, was described to Triad officials at the time as being to "facilitate international marketing," according to an informed source. Without mentioning the involvement of the U.S. government, Khashoggi outlined to Fraser and his associate, Ernest Miller, how the $10 million would be used to earn "modest profits" from arms sales to Iran, said the source close to the two Canadians.

Khashoggi's pledge of Triad assets to obtain the Vertex loans is a key issue in the lawsuit brought by Sheraton, which claims that Triad owes it $10 million. Lawyers for Sheraton have alleged that, as a means of paying his personal debt to Fraser and Vertex, Khashoggi is turning Triad America into an "empty shell" through "insider dealing." In particular, they have cited Triad America's attempts to sell the Edgington Oil Co., the company's sole remaining profitable asset, to a Vancouver-based firm called Skyhigh Resources Ltd. Fraser is a director and principal owner of Skyhigh. Khashoggi is a major investor and chairman of the firm.

"We don't want to see the company's assets being sold off to benefit insiders," said Joseph M. Hepworth, a lawyer for Sheraton, which recently obtained a temporary restraining order blocking the sale.

Triad's lawyers are vigorously contesting the restraining order, arguing that stopping the Edgington sale would have "catastrophic" effects on Triad America. Triad's "corporate future turns on its ability to consummate the Edgington sale and realize the expectations of its legitimate creditors that promised payment will be forthcoming," the lawyers said in court papers filed here last month.

The son of the court physician to the Saudi royal family, Khashoggi entered the public spotlight in the early 1970s when he earned hundreds of millions of dollars in commissions brokering arms sales to Saudi Arabia for U.S. defense contractors. His lavish life style -- with 12 homes around the world, a private fleet of three commercial-size airplanes and a glittering $70 million yacht (with helicopter pad and discotheque) that was borrowed for the James Bond film "Never Say Never Again" -- reinforced his cultivated reputation as "the world's richest man."

In recent months, however, there have been reports that Khashoggi has been suffering severe financial problems. He is reputed to have rolled up huge gambling debts at casinos in Las Vegas and London. His jets reportedly have been grounded for unpaid fuel bills. Servants at his mansion in Marbella, Spain, struck this fall over unpaid wages.

Such reports are nothing new, according to Ronald Kessler, author of the recent book "The Richest Man in the World: The Story of Adnan Khashoggi." "He's always been late in paying his bills," Kessler said. "For years, there's been these rumors about him having problems and that the yacht was up for sale. And then the next week, he'll come up with a new $4 billion arms deal."

Khashoggi operates his overseas investments through a secretive, privately held company called Triad International Corp. and based in the Cayman Islands, making it impossible for outsiders to obtain a clear picture of his finances and worldwide business operations. Nevertheless, court records and former associates here indicate that Khashoggi has experienced severe cash-flow problems over the past two years that have been exacerbated by overly ambitious plans and major business miscalculations.

Those problems have extended beyond Salt Lake City, Triad America's corporate headquarters. The company's plans to develop a giant $1 billion office complex in downtown Houston fell apart last April after the city's real estate market collapsed and Triad's chief business partner in the project, the Mainland Savings Association, failed and was taken over by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.

Other company projects -- including a 30-story Triad Center in Burbank, Calif., and a luxury resort in Aspen, Colo. -- also have been abandoned. At the same time, the company's plans to develop a 12,627-acre ranch near Tampa, Fla., have been clouded by a $90 million lawsuit filed in Los Angeles by the Aetna Casualty and Surety Co. Aetna, which guaranteed a $19 million loan for purchase of the ranch, has alleged that Khashoggi's brother, Essam, fraudulently transferred ownership of the property to Triad to avoid repayment of the loan. Lawyers for Essam Khashoggi have denied the allegations.

"What happened is that, because of the drop in world oil prices, Adnan had to redirect some of his investments, and he was not able to finance his U.S. operations at the levels he had planned," said Emanuel A. Floor, who until recently was executive vice president of Triad America and was a top company official for more than 12 years.

"And we got trapped," he added. "In Houston, we had a piece of land in the worst real estate market in the country . . . . And we had a situation in Salt Lake -- which had been a good market -- where we were overbuilt, overleveraged and our plans just weren't coming together."

As improbable as it has appeared to some outsiders, the involvement of the high-living Khashoggi in this conservative Mormon stronghold dates from the early 1970s, when representatives of Howard Hughes' Summa Corp. first approached him about undertaking a joint development project here. Hughes dropped out, but Khashoggi was attracted to the city and eventually bought 900 acres that he turned into the Salt Lake International Center, a successful industrial park adjacent to the city airport.

Floor, who remains sympathetic to Khashoggi, points out that many local critics who are up in arms forget Triad's previous thriving, 10-year relationship with the city. But he did acknowledge that Khashoggi's commitment to the U.S. company had begun to wane in 1984 when, under instructions from Khashoggi, Triad America provided $84 million in loans to the owner's international operations.

One of these loans for $40 million was to fund a project, conceived by Khashoggi and his friend Gaafar Nimeri, then president of the Sudan, to develop Sudanese oil resources. The project collapsed when Nimeri was overthrown in 1985; Floor said he has "no idea" what happened to the money. Triad America still carries the $40 million loan and another unpaid $44 million note to Khashoggi's overseas business on its books, according to court testimony here.

But Floor said it is unfair to conclude that Khashoggi has "run out" on Salt Lake City. "There were a lot of people here who wanted to see this community change -- they wanted to see more development and, when things were going well, they loved it . . . . Now all of a sudden, they're saying, 'He dumped on us.' "

He added, "You can't dislike Adnan. He's not mean-spirited . . . and he's a consummate salesman."