WEST ROGERS PARK — A mosque that plans to open in a former hot dog stand will give neighbors a first look Wednesday at the newly renovated space on Western Avenue.
Leaders of the Islamic group opening the prayer center faced years of community opposition before finally securing a special-use permit from the city last summer.
"There are misconceptions about our presence here," said Rashid Motivala, a spokesman for the mosque, called Faizan-e-Madina. "We are not here to disturb you guys."
News first surfaced in 2010 that the 6-year-old mosque congregation wanted to move into the former U Lucky Dawg restaurant. Some West Rogers Park neighbors expressed concerns about excessive noise and traffic that the mosque could draw to the area on four-lane Western Avenue.
The West Ridge Chamber of Commerce argued that a tax-exempt religious institution, like a mosque, wouldn't contribute to the area's tax increment financing district and would harm redevelopment efforts in the area, said Amie Zander, the chamber's director.
Zander said the city's zoning board agreed, but City Hall didn't notify the mosque of the denial within the required timetable. Subsequently, the mosque sued and ended up winning the right to go forward with its plans, she said.
"It’s taking a large parcel off of the tax rolls," Zander said. "It would have been best" to have a commercial business open on the site, she said.
She said other developers were interested in the "key piece of commercial property" at the time, and she was willing to help the mosque find another location nearby.
But others say the mosque's investment in the property serves the community in other ways.
"The first thing that does stand out to me is that property has been vacant for numerous years," said Ahmed Khan, chairman of the West Rogers Park Community Organization. "Even though it's a nonprofit entity, the mosque is investing into that facility."
Ever since U Lucky Dawg, formerly Fluky's, closed in 2008, the building been empty, its giant sign picturing a dancing wiener towering above the single-story building.
The exterior of the building has been left untouched since the mosque took over, including the sign and a few "Thank You" fast-food garbage cans.
It's difficult to picture "that this is a mosque and there's a hot dog sign. It's not appropriate," Motivala said.
The interior, however, has been gutted and undergone a $200,000 renovation, he said.
The walk-in freezer and kitchen equipment were removed to make way for a 4,600-square-foot prayer room, a washroom lined with granite walls, several restrooms, a shower and an office.
By the end of the summer, the parking lot will be resurfaced, the sign replaced and the grounds landscaped, he said.
Faizan-e-Madina, a congregation of about 40 members, had worshipped on Ridge Avenue just south of Devon Avenue in two rented storefronts, Motivala said, but outgrew the space.
"It wasn't enough for us," he said. "We were looking for something for our own."
So they decided to buy the vacant building at 6821 N. Western Ave. for $600,000.
The 68-year-old Motivala, who immigrated to West Rogers Park from India 41 years ago, compared the feeling of praying inside a building the congregation owns to the American dream of owning a home.
"You feel like you can worship the way you want to, when you want to," he said.
He said the congregation consists of "average" people, like doctors, lawyers, working-class people and Devon Avenue business owners who live in the community.
A meet-and-greet event, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, was planned in an effort to reach out to the community and clear up any "misconceptions" about what the mosque wants to do, he said.
Islam teaches to "give a benefit to the community from your existence," he said.
The mosque's new imam, Faizan Shaikh, 27, said he wants to help bring younger people to prayer services.
"It will be a good place," he said. "It will be here for others. All Muslims are welcome to come here for all five [daily] prayers."