Travelling vehicle exhibition company finds home in former fire hall

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Windsor Star/Tamar Harris


The former Walkerville fire hall is being transformed by a company that makes travelling vehicle exhibitions for organizations like the National Football League and the Smithsonian.

MRA Mobile Experiential designs, builds and tours mobile exhibits around the world — complete with museum-like displays and interactive technologies.

This summer, they’re expanding into Windsor.

The bays of the former fire station No. 2 at Walker Road and Richmond Street will house exhibit vehicles when they’re not in use, and other parts of the building will become office space. MRA’s second Canadian location is slated to open in early July.

MRA owner Tony Amato, who lives in Old Walkerville, said moving his company into Windsor is something he “always had an interest in.”

The company has created travelling vehicle exhibits for the Governor General of Canada, Canadian Tire and the Detroit Institute of Arts, among others. Their audiences range from Grade 5 students to CEOs of Fortune 100 companies. At any given time, Amato said more than 25 vehicles are on the road in Canada and the United States, with some rolling exhibits as large as 1,000 square feet.

“The Canadian side of our business has been growing steadily over the last four or five years,” said Amato.

MRA currently has a vehicle in England, another in Saudi Arabia and one in Windsor.

The Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s Together mobile exhibit — designed, built and operated in partnership with MRA — will be parked at 78 Riverside Dr. W. for the city’s 125th birthday celebrations on Saturday. The exhibit will be open to the public, free of charge, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We’re actually showcasing what Global Affairs Canada, and also the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, are doing around the world,” said tour manager Francois Grenier. “Helping other regions and countries to achieve a better quality of life, by access to electricity, nutrition, gender equality and so on.

“We’re here to trigger some conversation with people.”

Amato said their Walkerville location will act as a depot for their Canadian vehicles.

“It was a fire hall,” said Amato. “So we’re going to bring it to the 21st century in terms of look, feel. We’re going to paint the outside, kind of clean it up a little.”

Amato purchased the building from the City of Windsor, but declined to reveal the selling price.

City council voted to vacate the station in December 2013. MRA is renovating the former fire hall and will create two units for sublease in the shared building.

The exhibits, but not the vehicles, will be constructed at the new Windsor location, which is also where marketing, design and event-planning services that MRA offers will be located.

“The creative side of things are going to happen at this location,” said Amato.

Two or three current employees will be relocated into the new space. MRA currently employs about 64 people at their three locations in Detroit, Toronto and Liverpool, England. MRA also has a warehouse in Tecumseh.

“Windsor is a great location, being near the border,” Amato said. “It’s kind of a kept secret.”

Amato said he’s excited to have a presence in the area.

“We do international work, I don’t know if people realize that,” he said. “We provide the vehicles for the Smithsonian. We do military-based vehicle training. We do a lot in the medical field and in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) world as well.”

“The clients we work with, there are some really great, significant, high-profile Fortune 100 clients. If I can bring any snippet of that back to Windsor, where I’m from, it’s pretty good.”