Mark and Leigh McCann, Not Your Typical High Flyers!

Meet Captains Mark and Leigh McCann

Meet Captains Mark and Leigh McCann

Each month we look to highlight the accomplishments of those who have either touched our lives or made an impact on our community. This month we bring you a very special couple who are here not only as a result of the improvements made to our community, but are the very ones bringing all those flying here to enjoy what we like to call “Our little slice of “Paradise.”

Meet Allegiant Airlines Captains, Mark and Leigh McCann. If you are a “white knuckle flier” like me, you’ll find yourself in some of the most capable hands in the industry with these two. They are engaging, extremely knowledgeable and have a great sense of humor, as you’ll soon find out.

I knew this was a couple I was going to like when helping them purchase a home this past spring. Leigh had to fly and Mark was doing the final walk through for their “new” home. As we walked the grounds of this pristine country setting, an Allegiant jet just taking off passed directly over us. As a Realtor I thought to myself, “With the roar of those jet engines he’ll never want to close on this home,” but to my surprise, as I was apologizing for the noise, Mark replied, “That’s O.K., that’s Leigh.” I replied, “What do you guys do, dip a wing to say hello and good-bye to each other?” Mark just laughed and said, “Not quite, typically just a quick flash of the landing lights, but we’re used to it.” At that point I knew I was going to become fast friends with this couple.

Born in Arroyo Grande, California, before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1978, Mark said he knew at a very early age he was going to pursue his passion to fly. Leigh on the other hand, who grew up in St Louis, said her childhood dream was always to become an astronaut and even went to space camp. Their paths crossed while attending college in St Louis. Mark was pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree in Aviation, when Leigh, who was studying Aerospace Engineering, saw that Mark was having more fun with his major. She decided all the math courses weren’t for her and she, too, pursued a path of becoming a pilot.

Allegiant is updating their fleet of planes to the more technologically sophisticated Airbus A320s, which not only can hold 177 passengers, but are more fuel efficient and quiet.

Allegiant is updating their fleet of planes to the more technologically sophisticated Airbus A320s, which not only can hold 177 passengers, but are more fuel efficient and quiet.

Their careers paralleled each other as both became flight instructors before becoming Captains with a commuter airline company based out of the Phoenix area. However, in 2007 Leigh left to join Allegiant and in 2014 Mark joined the Allegiant ranks, as well. While they tease that earlier on in their careers Mark achieved his Captains license first, they pointed out whenever you move to another airline, your “captain’s” designation does not follow you and must be “regained” with the current airline you join. Leigh got somewhat of the last laugh since she joined Allegiant prior to Mark and attained her Captains designation first. In fact, Leigh is one of the most tenured Captains for Allegiant in this area which now boasts 36 pilots or 18 flight crews.

It is a long way from the small Socata manufactured Tampico planes they used when instructing their students to the MD80’s they are currently flying. However, Allegiant is updating their fleet of planes to the much more technologically sophisticated Airbus A320’s, which not only can hold 177 passengers, but are far more fuel efficient and quiet, which those living close to the flight paths will be glad to hear. These planes are so sophisticated that all Allegiant pilots are required to go for three months of intense training before being typed rated to fly this aircraft. As both Leigh and Mark have indicated, this plane really hones your computer skills.

Currently Allegiant keeps six planes at the airport and would like to add more to their base of operations, as they said there is a real need to expand, but parking is what limits their ability to do so. Statistically the numbers are there, as shown on the Punta Gorda Airport website, www.flypgd.com. Compared to the time period of January through August of 2014, Allegiant has flown almost 150,000 more passengers this year, which is not only a dramatic increase, but bodes well for our local economy.

When not making their daily round trips to places like Ohio and Indiana, Mark says if they could get the time they would love to travel back to Switzerland, as they are avid skiers. Although, since “9-11” the challenge they have is getting time off together, since both are Captains and no longer fly together. However, when not flying they love to kayak and ride their motorcycles, but are considering trading them in for a boat since the area’s relatively flat terrain doesn’t provide the same thrill the winding mountain roads out west gave them. Unfortunately having moved here in March, and then each having to go back to Arizona simultaneously for three months of intense flight school training for Allegiant’s new fleet of planes, they haven’t had much time to explore the area.

Although, they love the colorful downtown area and community spirit.

PlaneDrawingWhen asked about what kinds of questions or comments they most get from their passengers, Leigh said most people are surprised she is a pilot, no less a captain. She is one of the rare few, as she said women make up only 4% of the pilot population in the industry. When I pressed her as to what the passenger response is from those who find out she is a pilot, she laughed and said they typically say, “Well, good for you.”

Both are extremely personable and proud to be with Allegiant. Mark said he especially loves it when kids want to come into the cockpit, as he loves their inquisitiveness, a quality he and Leigh seem to have themselves. When asked about his favorite place to fly, he said “You may be surprised, but West Virginia is one of them because the passengers have always been so friendly and appreciative,” something he sees here in Punta Gorda, as well.

Despite their accomplishments as Captains for a growing airline, Mark is equally as proud of the accomplishments Allegiant has made. He pointed out that for 50 consecutive quarters Allegiant remained profitable, even during the recession, which he attributes to the unique niche it fills. Mark said Allegiant is not targeting the business traveler but has captured the “leisure market” as they service the “under- served” markets that want to travel to popular or resort destinations. He says much of their passenger base is first time fliers or seniors who enjoy their travel on Allegiant.

Perhaps one of the best perks of being a pilot are the vistas they capture from the air. Mark and Leigh both commented on the pristine beauty of Charlotte Harbor as they fly around the point of Punta Gorda and Burnt Store Isles on final approach. Unfortunately when the weather is not clear they have to take a more direct approach to the airport. Although, with the new, almost complete instrument landing system approved by the FAA, they may be able to stay out over the water a little longer, hopefully capturing a break in the clouds so the passengers can enjoy the same majestic views they have experienced many times themselves.

I have come to realize we have many great champions for our community, but as the first point of contact for those coming to our area, Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte could not have better ambassadors than Mark and Leigh McCann, as they encourage those they meet to enjoy all the area has to offer. So the next time your travels take you on Allegiant, see if Mark or Leigh are at the controls. If so, sit back and enjoy the ride, as they give new meaning to the phrase “fly the friendly skies.”

Mike Riley…Not Your Average Boogieman

Mike Riley, Charlotte County Schools Community Relations Officer, Charitable fundraiser and founder of one of the most sought after bands in Southwest Florida, The BoogieMen!

Mike Riley, Charlotte County Schools Community Relations Officer, Charitable fundraiser and founder of one of the most sought after bands in Southwest Florida, The BoogieMen!

We have all come across people who have either impacted our lives or the communities in which we live. Someone who has impressed me both personally, as well as, for the contribution he has made to our community is Mike Riley, Charlotte County Schools Community Relations Officer, Charitable fundraiser and founder of one of the most sought-after bands in Southwest Florida, The BoogieMen!

With Halloween around the corner and its ghoulish stories of ghosts, goblins and haunted houses, there is a Boogieman out there who is quite different from the one you heard about as a child growing up. For Mike Riley it is all about “serving the community and others before self,” and his impact on the lives of so many others, both young and old alike, is simply inspiring.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ohio, he was born to Roy and Margaret Riley and joined his “big” sister Pat to make their family. They instilled in him, “the respect for your elders, compassion for others, and a desire to love life and live every day to its fullest,” something Mike holds dear to this day. While he grew up with a love for the outdoors, like many children in the 50’s and early 60’s he was captivated by the music of that era. When he first heard of The Beatles he thought they were The Chipmunks, but it was a friend of his sister’s who showed up to their home one day in his mint green ’57 Chevy and opened the trunk of his car to show off a sunburst Fender Stratocaster guitar on top of sheet music and 45 records that the music bug bit Mike. After putting his sister’s Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vinton and Frankie Avalon records away for Buddy Holly, The Beatles and The Everly Brothers, Mike was hooked and it has been in his blood ever since.

After graduating high school in 1970, he went on to Miami of Ohio University part time for the next ten years while working full time and raising a family. Upon graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education he moved that summer of 1980 to Charlotte County, where he accepted a teaching position at Meadow Park Elementary School and taught physical education to “a few thousand of the greatest kids in the world for ten years.”

He went on to further his education, receiving his Master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale, and in 1990 accepted the position as Assistant Principal at the brand new Myakka River Elementary School. From there Mike went on to become Assistant Principal at Neil Armstrong Elementary School and then Port Charlotte Middle School before accepting a position as Manager of Adult and Community Education, which he held for six years. His service to the school system was highly recognized by Dr. David Gayler, Superintendent of Schools, who fifteen years ago asked Mike to serve as his link to the community and spokesman for the district as School Community Relations Officer. He also serves as the liaison between the school system and the non-profits, as well as, youth activity providers, but his service to community and the children doesn’t end there.

“Riley” as he is known to his closest friends, has served on a host of boards that include Youth Service Boards for the YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County and the Education Committee for the Chamber of Commerce. He has chaired Education Day for Leadership Charlotte for 8 years, The Business/Educators Exchange Day for 6 years and has been the liaison for the Take Stock in Children Scholarship Program for 20 years while mentoring dozens of students from 8th grade through their high school graduation. And if you still aren’t impressed, aside from many other community leadership positions focused on local and state education and literacy, Mike is a past president, a “Paul Harris Fellow,” as well as charter member of the Peace River Heights Rotary Club, whose motto he practices to this day, “Service above Self.” This organization sponsors scholarships for local high school students and non-profits including “For Love of Kids” and “Project Graduation” for Charlotte High School seniors, but this is only part of his generous “giving back to his community.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has nothing over Riley’s home which in itself is a “hall of fame.” Perhaps the best way to describe this living tribute to rock n’ roll history is if you took Peter Maxx and Sgt. Pepper and sent them on a Magical Mystery Tour!

Mike Riley’s home is a living tribute to rock n’ roll history, a Magical Mystery Tour with Peter Maxx and Sgt. Pepper!

Mike Riley’s home is a living tribute to rock n’ roll history, a Magical Mystery Tour with Peter Maxx and Sgt. Pepper!

Almost 50 guitars hang from these history laden walls, each with an incredible story to tell, and there is no better story teller than Riley who said, “Even the artwork and furniture has a story to tell,” as I noticed a unique cabinet that had the lower right corner missing.

Riley proceeded to tell me as a child growing up his friends and their fathers all owned guns, on Riley’s Wedding Day, his hometown buddy Danny Rommel was at the house and the conversation turned to guns they had. Riley went in and brought out a customized shotgun he had that hadn’t been shot in 20 years. While racking the gun it went off, blowing a hole in the door of his liquor cabinet. Riley said, Danny overreacted, claiming he was hit in the leg as he sat on the couch on the opposite side of the room, but as Riley confided, Danny was in love with telling the story of this new misadventure! He still limps whenever he sees Mike coming.

Mike played guitar on and off throughout his high school years, but one of the first groups he played with in Charlotte County was with his son and one of his son’s school friends.

Mike played guitar on and off throughout his high school years, but one of the first groups he played with in Charlotte County was with his son and one of his son’s school friends.

He recounted the days when he was 10 years old and a neighbor returned home from the Army by the name of Johnny Allen. He wanted ten dollars for a guitar he got from Thailand. Roy, Riley’s Dad, would trade the belt off of his pants so he swung a deal and he had his first guitar. While he played on and off throughout his high school years, one of the first groups he played with in Charlotte County was with his son and one of his son’s school friends. He said they played on the steps of the old courthouse 34 years ago for the 4th of July Fireworks, as well as, some weddings and parties. It was a 4 year run as a 32 year old playing with a 10 and 12 year old. Even though Riley founded the group, the boys eventually kicked him out, as I got the distinct impression the boys felt he was holding them back.

However, in 1990 Mike formed the area’s premier “Rock and Soul” band called “The BoogieMen.” This is a high energy ten piece band that has opened concerts for The Beach Boys, Kansas, The Edgar Winter Group, “Dangerous Dan Toler,” Herman’s Hermits, Rare Earth, The Outlaws, Grand Funk Railroad, The Grass Roots, The Rascals and many other Rock, Soul and Country legends. When I asked Riley, with a resume like this why he didn’t take the group on a national tour he replied, “That was never my intention.” He said, “members of the band all had day jobs and family commitments, and the goal was to have some fun while helping support local charities, raise funds and improve lives.”

Twenty five years later The BoogieMen are still one of the most sought after bands in southwest Florida. They have played 128 benefits and changed the lives of many, both young and old.

The BoogieMen are still one of the most sought after bands in southwest Florida.

The BoogieMen are still one of the most sought after bands in southwest Florida.

Five years ago, Ron Evans and his partners from Smuggler’s Enterprises made a decision to recognize someone annually at the 4th of July Fireworks celebration who epitomizes community service. The award was crafted for someone who selflessly gives of their time and talents to improve the lives of both children and the adults in our community. This is accompanied by a $5,000.00 donation to the charity of the recipient’s choice. Mike was the first recipient of the award on July 4, 2010 and the award read, “In recognition of character, integrity, honor, generosity, community service and student mentoring…” Today this award is known as the “Riley Award,” a true testament to this remarkable man.

Since that time Mike has gone on to receive numerous awards for his dedication to his community and the children within the community whose accomplishments he is even more proud of than his own. He is one of the most humble people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and proud to call a friend. While his family inspired him to respect and care for others, I think Mike’s own words say it best when he says, “I am proud to call Charlotte County my home, and I hope that in some small way I can make a difference in the quality of life and self-esteem of the children and adults that are part of my community.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not kind of Boogieman I ever knew!

Charlotte County, Fl – Are We Still the Best Place to Live?

Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes fame had a sarcastic wit I loved. It wasn’t his sarcasm that captivated me as much as his introspective questioning of viewpoints we take as gospel. However, it wasn’t until CNN Money’s most recent article on “Best Places to Live” that I thought of Mr. Rooney’s profound insight that got me to thinking, “If Punta Gorda/ Port Charlotte Florida were voted before as one of the best places to live, how come we didn’t even make the list of top 100 this year?”

Florida always seemed to have a couple of areas in the top 10 but this year Weston, FL came in at #63 and Coral Springs came in at #94. More interestingly was that no city in Florida cracked the top 50. “Did Florida somehow not qualify this year; last I heard it was still part of the continental U.S.?”

Jobs, healthcare, low crime, education and quality of life were the criteria used in this year’s search, but in the Rooney style, I would have to say, “I didn’t realize jobs and quality of life were the major draws to such states as Minnesota and Michigan whose small cities garnered several of the top spots!” As a Realtor, I have been hearing for the better part of the past five years just the opposite that it was because of the tough job and housing market that many in these two states were leaving to seek a more attractive climate and “quality of lifestyle” that Florida had to offer.

It is hard to imagine the entire state of Florida had its 15 minutes of fame and now slips back to anonymity, or is the author of the CNN poll bias towards the northern states and trying to level the playing field?

I have always said, “If you move to Florida for employment, you may be best served going into business for yourself, unless you are being relocated with a large firm.” As for quality of life, somehow trudging through howling winds and freezing temperatures doesn’t appeal to me as much as year round sun filled skies, sandy beaches and a 10 minute relaxing drive to work…..I think Mr. Rooney would agree!

Murdock Village – Will It Ever Get off the Ground?

Recently I have written about a proposed business incubator being targeted for the former Impac University and business performance consulting company site in the downtown historic district of Punta Gorda.

After much public backlash, the Charlotte County Commissioners voted to delay any vote to go ahead with the $2.5 million purchase of this property as it was seen by many as too risky a gamble with the tight budget constraints the county is facing.

So what does this have to do with Murdock Village you ask? Well, for 10 years the taxpayers of Charlotte County Florida have had to bear the brunt of the interest fees on this more than $100 million purchase that many feel should never have happened in the first place and the thought of adding another $2-3 million purchase to the tax rolls with no definite users in sight for this property has outraged many in the private sector.

With over 870 acres of undeveloped land that was “acquired through a controversial mix of financial bonding and eminent domain,” Murdock Village still lays dormant and many question if this projected mixed use “entertainment” focal point will ever get off the ground.

Planned as a tourist destination accommodating three distinctly different venues from a water theme park, a music and entertainment district and a state of the art baseball youth experience, this was to be the key development in the economic revitalization of Port Charlotte and the surrounding area. Main Street, was the music and entertainment venue with robust plans to construct 400,000 square feet of theater space, 240,000 square feet of commercial retail space, and 500 multi-family units around two guitar shaped lakes and amphitheaters, similar to the entertainment district in Branson, Missouri.

Main Street which was the brainchild of Jay Goldberg, worked for over two years receiving the Charlotte County Commissioners approval for his conceptual plan however, on September 11, 2012 it was reported in the Charlotte Sun that Mr. Goldberg was unable to raise the $220 million in the 18 month timeframe needed to fund his ambitious project and Main Street was “scrapped.” While this was a major blow to the excitement generated by all three venues, the “cornerstone” of the Murdock Village site is a $130 million waterpark and resort to be built by Water Park Venture Management Services which have developed other resorts in Wisconsin and Tennessee. This project creatively spearheaded by Southwest Developers partners Bruce Laishley and Rick Treworgy agreed to swap 137 acres in Murdock Village owned by the county for 33 acres of shovel ready property owned by their company at Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park near the Punta Gorda Airport.

Now their project along with the possibility of luring in the Ripkin Baseball Experience venue could be the best hope Charlotte County has to develop the former General Development subdivision that cost the taxpayers $1.9 million last year alone or more than $5,000 a day in interest.

According to County Commissioners Stephen R. Deutsch and Robert Skidmore, aside from the infrastructure and natural gas issues, it all comes down to funding. “Financing is the biggest hurdle,” as many investors and large lenders are backing away from projects on this scale with the state of the economy. One can only hope the determination of those promoting these projects can find the resources that would give the economic boost the county so desperately needs.

Port Charlotte – Voted One of the 10 Best Places to Live

Voted “One of the ten best places in the nation to retire due to its affordability and proximity to the water,” this is just the latest affirmation of Port Charlottes continued attractiveness for those looking to retire. Noted in the article was Port Charlotte’s previous mention as the “Top retirement town” in the March 2010 edition of “Where to Retire,” magazine and “One of the most popular retirement destinations,” by Portfolio.com.

While Port Charlotte’s recent notoriety began in 2009 when CNN Money voted Port Charlotte as “The best place to retire,” future development plans for Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda go well beyond serving the retired. Waterparks similar to those found in Orlando, music venues modeled after Branson Missouri with their theaters, shops and restaurants, and “Ripkin Baseball” featuring multiple baseball fields, attracting little league players from across the country,will spur tourism and job growth as the Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda area will become one of Southwest Florida’s premier tourist and travel destinations. Coupled with the waterfont location of Punta Gorda and its quaint historic downtown and state of the art marinas, this area is in position to become one of the best places in the country to live, work and play!