Menino's mosque

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  November 24, 2008

The shaky financial premise of the project was so obvious even well before the 2002 groundbreaking that Moriarty agreed to take on the role of general contractor only under a pay-as-you-go arrangement, in which no work would be done or materials ordered until the ISB had money to cover it. "We were concerned about how it was going to get funded, and how we were going to get paid," says Moriarty. "We had many, many meetings: 'Okay, do you have the money for the windows? Can we order the windows?'?"

One former high-ranking city official says that the same concern about the project's financial viability should have kept the city from following through with the final sale of the land. No such caution can be found in city documents. Quite the opposite: this is when Menino made certain the project happened.

On March 26, 2002, Menino sent a personal letter of support to ISB trustee Osama Kandil. The letter was instrumental in keeping the mosque project alive. Final Designation was due to expire in June, but the ongoing cost-cutting redesign was still delaying the ISB from gaining Final Design approval from the BRA. Menino's letter helped win a six-month extension.

It still wasn't enough; according to a source close to the project at the time, fundraising continued to go poorly. Documents show that at the time, after five years of fundraising, the ISB had just $4 million in the bank for what was still a $20+ million project.

But, says the source, Ali-Salaam and others convinced Menino that the dry spell was not because of 9/11 or the FBI's tracking of donors. Instead, Middle Easterners, unfamiliar with arcane city approval processes, were reluctant to give until they saw actual shovels in the ground.

Menino's solution: hold a premature groundbreaking before the city sold the land to the ISB — an action that was unusual to say the least. But was it an example of a can-do urban mechanic bullying his way through? Or was it an image-conscious pol looking to nurture his legacy by shaping a skyline? (Read more on how the mosque is Scaling Back.)

SCENES FROM A MOSQUE: The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center — better known as the Roxbury mosque — has been more than 20 years in the making. Despite support from city officials all the way up to Mayor Menino, the mosque is under-funded by millions and owes hundreds of thousands to contractors who worked on the project’s still-incomplete first phase. (The top left and bottom right photos were taken over the summer; the surrounding area and building have since been cleaned.)

Failed commitments
The mosque's shaky financial status eventually caused Moriarty to leave the project, after overseeing construction of the exterior. Since then, work has been done primarily by (non-union) Muslim sub-contractors willing to do the job at or below cost.

Even so, the mosque has run into trouble paying its bills. Mujeeb Ahmed, who took over as general contractor, is owed at least $200,000, according to the mosque's executive director, Kaleem. The mosque owes at least another million dollars in loans, says Kaleem.

Others have not been paid. "They owe me $17,000," says Anthony Lampasona. His Norfolk company, Lampasona Concrete, did all of the external cement work. Lampasona placed a lien on the property this past April. "They say they don't have any money," he says.

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