Scaling Back

The financial issues with the mosque's size and revenue sources
By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 19, 2008

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To meet the city's requirement of a "community benefit" to the development of the parcel, nearly everyone agrees that the mosque must provide more than prayer space.

"It will be integrated into the community as a meeting place, offering services and classes," says Bruce Bolling, who backed the project when he was city councilor. "That was part of the terms and conditions."

But as financial constraints forced the mosque's developers to cut back, those are the very functions that they postponed for Phase II, or eliminated completely. None of those functions is included in the building now, or is likely to be included anytime soon — a fact that very few local leaders seem to be aware of, including those who supported its development.

The entire planning for the phased construction was predicated on the importance of getting the prayer space ready, rather than the community-benefit uses, says John Moriarty, whose Winchester company, Moriarty & Associates, was the general contractor for most of the construction.

The changes also appear to have eliminated the intended revenue sources that were to have covered the estimated $1 million annual operating costs. Income from classes and rental of parking spaces was expected to offset that. Instead, mosque director Bilal Kaleem says that he hopes to lease out two storefront spaces in the building, and to raise revenue from leasing use of the space, for community functions, events, and even weddings. Plus, the mosque has begun applying for, and receiving, grants from both the federal government and local groups, such as the Amelia Peabody Foundation, Cambridge Community Foundation, and Foley Hoag Foundation.

Aesthetics have also been sacrificed from the original vision; tiles that were to run along the arches have been scrapped, at least until more funds are available, for example, as have several large chandeliers. Unless and until Phase II happens, the side of the mosque facing Tremont Street will bear a large, incongruous blank white wall, and an empty lot.

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