Milan Expo 2015: What happens when the big fair leaves town?

'Expo efffect' redefines Milan's skyline
'Expo efffect' redefines Milan's skyline

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(CNN)Milan has long been renowned as a hotbed of fashion, football and finance.

Italy's second largest city is the proud of home of global fashion labels like Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, after all.
The country's main banking groups are also firmly ensconced here -- as are world renowned soccer clubs AC Milan and Internazionale.
    A 15-minute drive into the northern suburbs, however, offers a look at Milan's newest international attraction and a preview of what one architect hopes will be the city's next major development.

    The new Milan

    The Milan Expo 2015 is an ode to sustainability and food, with a focus on how to feed the world. But the six-month-long fair aims to impact the city long after the flashy pavilions are gone.
    Running in parallel to the exposition is an economic revival of Milan itself and an effort to move perceptions of it beyond the traditional industries of finance and fashion.
    The vast site of the Expo, situated in the Rho-Pero district, has already attracted two major brands that want to set-up shop with long-term leases: Google and Nestle.
    A dozen major property investments were also made in the run up to Expo 2015.
    Yet the sheer scale of the Expo site means there will still be a void when the fair leaves town at the end of October -- even with its confirmed new tenants.

    Homes for all

    The future of Rho-Pero, however, is not solely about business and commerce.
    Plans are underway to transform the area currently hosting the fair's visiting delegates into an affordable housing project called Cascina Merlata.
    Developer EuroMilano has enlisted architect and urban planner Mario Cucinella to move the concept away from the gray, low-income structures built in the city during the 1960's and '70's.
    Eleven elaborate new buildings will house nearly 700 apartments. More than a third will go up for sale, 31% will be turned into a lease-to-buy arrangement and another 31% will be kept aside for low-income renters.
    New housing structures on the site of Rho-Pero in Milan.
    "For this kind of operation, we need to always invest in beauty, in architecture (and) also in this level of buildings," says Cucinella.
    It's a modern look for Milan that Cucinella hopes will become a prominent part of the city's evolution.
    But real estate strategists, like of Antonio Zagaroli of Knight Frank, say nice structures can only carry a project of this scale so far. Zagaroli believes "an anchor" tenant is needed to fill the vast space.
    "We are talking about an area of one million square meters, of which 60% is green (and) 40% is going to be covered. That would mean 400,000 square meters (open to construction)," he says.
    "I would say that would definitely need an anchor."

    A blank slate

    Ideas being considered include moving a university campus to Rho-Pero where's there's room to grow and develop over time. Other proposals include creating a bio-tech research center or hosting government back-office operations.
    The site of Expo 2015 in Milan.
    Cucinella agrees an anchor is essential to get the most out of any potential housing developments.
    "I think the expo will be an opportunity," he says. "If the university is here or it can be transformed into a bio-diversity park, it is another destination not only for Milan but for the region. I think we need some attraction on a very large scale."
    The clock is ticking, however.
    If a big tenant can't be secured before the Expo ends, it could become just another empty space.