Last fall, on September 16, 2014 to be exact, Br. Kamil Samara, who manages the ISM’s east side properties, noticed that a closed church building located across the street from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union had a “for sale” sign on the front lawn. Br. Samara immediately brought the matter to the attention of the ISM administration.
The administration of the ISM immediately recognized the great opportunity that had presented itself, by the Grace of Allah (SWT). For years, the ISM owned a duplex about one block away from the UWM Student Union. Unfortunately, this facility (the Musalla) was not sufficient to meet the needs of the students at UWM nor the east side Muslim community. Besides being far too small to accommodate any programs, the facility was not zoned as a place of worship. Although the tenants who resided in the Musalla (and others) were able to perform their daily and Friday prayers at the facility, there was insufficient room available for all the brothers who wished to offer their prayers, much less the sisters who represented a significant percentage of local Muslim students on the UWM campus. It is estimated that there are over 600 Muslim students at UWM, with at least 100 of them being from our local community.
After quick discussions involving the Executive Board (Shura) of the ISM and the Board of Trustees, an offer was drafted on September 25, 2014 and emailed to the Seller’s broker the next day. Unfortunately, the Seller totally ignored the very reasonable offer that was submitted by the ISM. When the ISM contacted the Seller’s broker seeking a response to its offer, the broker claimed that the Seller was not getting back to him. On Friday, October 3, the ISM administration again contacted the broker. The broker informed the ISM that another offer had been submitted to the Seller on October 2nd (the previous day) and the Seller accepted the offer on the same day!
The administration of the ISM was perplexed by the broker’s explanation and extremely disappointed that they were not able to purchase the facility. What was perplexing was that the ISM had an open and pending offer and the offer was never countered. Normally, if there are multiple offers, a competent broker would allow (and even encourage) the potential buyers to get into a bidding war to extract the highest purchase price possible. This did not happen. The ISM’s offer was totally ignored. When the ISM administration discussed what had transpired, most felt that the only reasonable explanation for the lack of any counteroffer by the Seller was the Seller’s unwillingness to sell the facility to the ISM. This explanation was only speculative, but there did not appear to be any other reasonable explanation.
All members of our community who learned that the ISM’s offer for the property was rejected were disappointed that the Muslim community had lost a great opportunity. Of course, humans have their plans and Allah (SWT) has His plans.
In the Spring of 2015, the ISM Executive Director happened to be visiting the UWM Student Union to conduct a program there. He immediately noticed that the same facility still had a “for sale” sign posted on the front lawn. He found this to be odd and wondered if the buyer was having difficulty closing. When he checked city records to determine if there was any type of zoning or other application submitted to the City of Milwaukee, he found none. Apparently, the offer that had been accepted by the Seller in October, 2014 fell through. (Based on information we later obtained, we believe the investor’s offer fell through due to the opposition of the alderman and others to the buyer’s proposed redevelopment plans). Despite the fact that the October offer fell apart, the Broker did not contact the ISM to see if the Muslim community was still interested in the property. This failure by the broker to contact the ISM reinforced the view of the leadership of the ISM that the Seller, a religious organization that was affiliated with a very conservative Christian denomination, did not want to sell their facility to a Muslim group.
In the spring of 2015, another investor made a new offer for the church facility. The new investor had an unrelated, but ongoing business relationship with several businessmen in the Muslim community. After discussions between the various parties, the investor agreed to transfer his rights in the property to the businessman and the businessman agreed to transfer his rights in the property to the ISM. Alhamdulillah! The ISM became the new owner of the property.
The property includes an old church building that was built in 1967 and a duplex that was built in 1918. The first floor of the duplex was converted into commercial space (offices) for the organization that previously owned and operated the church. The purchase price for the church building and the attached duplex was $700,000.
Although the church building was well built and well maintained by the original owners, it appears that, the owners over the last decade allowed the building to deteriorate. Very few repairs were made, and those repairs that were completed were often done so in a haphazard manner.
The current focus of the ISM is to complete those renovations that are necessary for the new facility to open for prayers. A minbar (which was donated by a Masjid in St. Louis) has already been transferred to the new facility. New carpeting and padding will soon be installed to replace the existing flooring in the main prayer hall. The prayer hall will accommodate more than 400 people and will be open for both, brothers and sisters. Providing suitable accommodations for our sisters was an important consideration in making the decision to purchase the property.
Over time, many repairs need to be completed on the properties. It is estimated that the cost of renovations and repairs will exceed $300,000. This includes the need for a sound system, roofing work, windows, HVAC (heating, ventilating and A/C – there is currently no A/C in the main building), plumbing and electrical work, retaining wall and landscaping work, the construction of wudu (ablution) areas, and so forth.
All those who have seen the facility are very happy with the purchase. What makes this facility especially unique is that it is practically located on the campus of the largest University in the City of Milwaukee. UWM has over 28,000 students, more than the combined total of all other universities in the Milwaukee area.
The Muslim students at UWM are especially happy The new Masjid is in a prime location. The size of the facility is sufficient to accommodate all Muslim students for Jumuah (Friday) prayers. This includes both brothers and sisters! Additionally, the lower level of the facility includes a large hall that can accommodate many educational and social functions.