Mike Nicholson sat in his wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs leading to the stage set up at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Surrounded by thousands who filled the park for a fundraising concert in his honor, Nicholson smiled broadly as the man with the bass guitar walked down the stairs and began jamming right in front of him.
“It’s great to see Tampa come out and support me,” Nicholson said about an hour earlier, as the crowd started filing in to see the man with the guitar - actor/musician Gary Sinise - and his Lt. Dan Band. The Friday night concert kicked off their nationwide tour to raise money to build “smart” homes for severely wounded troops.
Put on by the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Tunnel To Towers Foundation, the concert is part of an effort to raise money to build a home for Mike Nicholson, who lost three limbs in Afghanistan.
Nicholson, 23, a Marine sergeant who was recently medically retired, lost both legs and part of his left arm in an improvised explosive device attack on July 6, 2011.
“It’s absolutely awesome that Gary Sinise came out here,” said Nicholson, a Plant High School graduate.
His father, John Nicholson, was awed by how many people paid between $35 and $75 to help his son move into a new home. Police at the concert estimated the crowd at more than 3,000.
“We got reports that ticket sales were less than expected,” he said before the band took the stage. “But this is a great turnout.”
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the response “makes me proud. This shows that Tampa really takes care of its own,” he said.
Ticket sales weren’t the only way to raise money. Gary and Mary Robinson, a Fort Myers couple, bid $14,000 on a flag painting made that night by artist Scott LoBaido.
Sinise said the homes will cost about $500,000 each. Organizers hope to finish a dozen homes by the end of the year.
One of them, on a treed half-acre South Tampa lot on Interbay Blvd., will be built for Nicholson. He hopes to move in sometime before Christmas.
The home will feature cabinets and cook tops that will lower and raise at the touch of an iPad or Android device, James Ramos, the man designing the 3,500-square-foot building, has said.
The lot was purchased in November for $153,000 by The Tower to Tunnel Foundation, which was created after 9/11 to honor Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life when the towers came down.
Instead of a “man cave,” Nicholson opted for an outdoor kitchen and pool, said Ramos, president of Ramos Design Build.
For more information, or to donate, go to supportmikenicholson.com.