OUR POSITION^p: Charlotte County is developing a distinctive reputation as veteran friendly — something that could develop into a national draw.^p

It isn’t much of a stretch to envision Charlotte County as a “must” stop for veterans who have Florida on their itinerary. And, with the attractions already in place and those that are planned, we might be bold enough to predict Charlotte County could become a top draw for conventions and trips for veterans’ groups.

Seem far-fetched? Not really.

Let’s start with the Vietnam Memorial Wall of Southwest Florida, the centerpiece of the Veterans Park in Punta Gorda. The wall, funded mainly by donations raised through a local nonprofit, is a fitting centerpiece to a park that already draws visiting veterans and those living here already — a number that approaches 30,000 by one estimate.

The memorial is striking and a fitting tribute that resonates with the thousands of Baby Boomers in Southwest Florida. But, it’s not the only draw for veterans at that location.

Punta Gorda city staff, with about $540,000 in funds, is working with community partners to develop renovations that include parking improvements along Nesbit Street, and East Retta Esplanade, streetscaping, an honor walk, a mural wall plaza, a Purple Heart memorial, a donor’s plaza and the gazebo ceremonial plaza.

Not far away, the Military Heritage Museum is just weeks away from opening the doors at its new home in the former IMPAC building near Fishermen’s Village.

The museum offers 20,000 artifacts, 4,000 literary titles and more than 1,000 documents — all carefully preserved for visitors to peruse.

And there are plans, according to a recent Sun^p article, for the museum to get bigger and better.

“It’s going to be a very different museum from what it is today,” said Gary Butler, the museum’s executive director.

He said the second floor will be interactive. Officials have on hand large, military-grade simulators that will allow you to sit in a chair and fly an airplane or pilot a ship.

So now, we have two interesting and memorable draws to Charlotte County for any veteran.

And, if all goes well, construction will ramp up soon on a third destination — the William R. Gaines Veterans Memorial Park on Edgewater Drive in Port Charlotte.

The park is already there, complete with a new sign. But there is much work to do. Another nonprofit group, fostered by Charlotte County Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch, is raising funds to build what will be the centerpiece of the park — a 50-foot tower to honor the Marines killed in a 1983 attack on their headquarters in Beirut. Charlotte High School grad Billy Gaines, for whom the park is named, was among those killed.

The park, which honors all veterans and first responders, will be a must-see stop when it is completed. Plans are for this park to be educational along with a great destination for those wanting a comfortable time in the outdoors, on its trails etc. There is even a first responders museum in the plans.

Imagine for a moment, Sunseeker Resort playing host to a couple hundred veterans who — after swimming in the 1,000-foot pool and munching on food at the resort’s restaurants — take a couple of days to honor their fallen brethren. It’s a natural fit.

Charlotte County: bringing our veterans home. Let’s begin the marketing campaign.


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