Charlotte County commissioners believe a proposed tower commemorating the 1983 bombing of Marine barracks in Beirut could be the nation’s best memorial for this tragedy.

A four-story tower has been designed for a nonprofit group headed by the younger brother of a young Marine who died in the bombing — William R. Gaines Jr.

Gaines’ brother, Michael, updated commissioners last week on the project that has revitalized a county park over the past three years. County staff also updated the board on their progress on county-funded amenities in the park. At the request of the park’s board champion, Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch, the county will add the new design to its master plan for parks and recreation.

“I can’t emphasize enough the education aspect of this,” said Michael Gaines of the tower. “A lot of people don’t know about what happened in ‘83, why it should matter. This is a chance to explain it.”

Commissioner Chris Constance called the tower design “very impressive.”

“It will be the one location where people can go and reflect and assume the embodiment and the sentiment and get closer to that whole experience,” he said.

The Gaines Veterans Foundation has so far paid for two dramatic cement entrance signs for the park, the flagpole and an architectural design for the tower, Gaines told commission. They have $400,000 on hand now for the tower that they are told would cost at most, $3 million, but hopefully less.

Many people have donated so far, Gaines told The Daily Sun, as have some corporations including the local Ford dealership and Allegiant Travel Co. Anyone wanting to donate or more information on the tower should go to www.wrgainesjr.org.

“It may take a few years and it’s certainly going to take a lot of effort on the fundraising side, but you’ve gotten this far, and I fully assume you’ll get there. Hopefully, we’ll all be there to see it,” Constance said.


The architect who designed the tower used elements of the two buildings where the Marines lived and worked at that time in Beirut, Gaines said.

The foundation is working with a university history department to ensure the accuracy of the story behind the suicide bombing that killed 220 Marines and 21 other American military men in Beirut. They were there as a primary element in an international peacekeeping force during that country’s civil war.

The entrance will commemorate the crater left by the suicide bomb. Nine-foot historical panels will tell the story of the complex history behind the bombing.

The Gaines project began in 2017 when the county renamed the minimalist Sunrise Park off Edgewater Drive to William R. Gaines Jr. Memorial Park. The park is located along the Charlotte Harbor coastline, bordered by mangroves.

So far, the county has completed phase one of the project, Facilities Director Anthony Maddox told commissioners. That was $2.1 million worth of projects including a second entrance to the park, new asphalt and green parking lots, a playground and sidewalks. Florida Power & Light paid for a solar parking canopy.

The current project, phase 2, is mostly funded by the state Department of Environmental Protection. It includes trails to be built through the wooded areas on the coastal side of the park.

Phase 3 is also funded — with $1.75 million anticipated from the county’s 2020 sales tax initiative. It will include connecting the park’s restrooms to the county’s sewer system instead of the septic fields they currently use. The phase will add bocce, pickleball and tennis courts with lighting plus a pavilion.

There’s no funding identified for the last phase that would add a splash pad and community center.

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