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Jamal Thalji, Times Staff Writer

Jamal Thalji

Jamal Thalji has spent 18 years covering crime, courts, sports and now the business beat for the Tampa Bay Times.

He was raised in the Tampa Bay area, attended Osceola High School and is a graduate of the University of South Florida in Tampa. He worked for the Times while he was in college and later interned at the Des Moines Register.

After five years covering criminal and civil court in Pasco County for the Times, in 2008 he became metro police reporter for the city of St. Petersburg.

In June 2012 he joined the Times business staff and now covers Tampa International Airport, the Port of Tampa and Tampa Bay's tourism industry.

Along the way he has also covered NASA, the NFL, the NBA, college football, hurricanes, forest fires, space shuttle launches, criminal trials and lots of high school football.

Phone: (813) 226-3404

Email: thalji@tampabay.com

Twitter: @JThalji

  1. Look at what restaurants Tampa International Airport might be getting

    Economic Development


    If the bay area's most refined palates held a fantasy foodie draft while locked in the wine cellar at Bern's Steak House, they might dream up something like this:

    Mise en Place's Maryann Ferenc and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik leading a foodie's row of Bern's, Four Green Fields, Holy Hog BBQ, Kahwa Coffee, Mazarro Italian Market and Rumfish Grill.

    Or triple-threat restaurateur Richard Gonzmart (Columbia Restaurant, Goody Goody and Ulele) and Ducky's owner/Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria anchoring a lineup of Bella's Italian Cafe, Buddy Brew Coffee and Datz....

    An artist’s rendering of the interior of Vintage Bern’s, a casual version of Tampa’s famous Bern’s Steak House proposed for the main terminal.
 [Tampa International Airport]
  2. Pinellas County's 'manaphin' takes Manhattan


    Madison Avenue loves the "manaphin."

    The manaphin is the mythical half-manatee, half-dolphin creature that Pinellas tourism officials created last year as an April Fools' Day prank that brought worldwide media attention to the county's beaches.

    That campaign received one of the hospitality industry's highest marketing awards Monday night in New York City.

    The Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International's Adrian Awards gave the Pinellas County tourism agency, Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, two of its platinum honors, one for the viral manaphin hoax and the other for a website used by the VSPC's industry partners....

    The “manaphin,” a half-manatee, half-dolphin sea creature invented by Visit St. Pete-Clearwater last year to create a buzz and reel in visitors to Pinellas County, was mentioned as one of last year’s best April Fools’ Day hoaxes by ABC News.
  3. Board of Governors endorses USF medical school for downtown Tampa

    Economic Development

    TALLAHASSEE — The University of South Florida on Thursday made its second pitch in four weeks to win the Board of Governors' support for its $153 million downtown Tampa medical education and research center.

    The sequel was better.

    USF wowed the governors. The BOG decided to forgo any discussion and voted to unanimously endorse USF's plan to build a 12-story office tower/medical campus in the heart of Jeff Vinik's $1 billion downtown redevelopment project....

    An artist's rendering shows a proposed University of South Florida medical school building beside a medical office building and parking garage in downtown Tampa. [University of South Florida]
  4. Florida broke record in 2014 with 97.3 million tourists

    State Roundup

    TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott stopped by Tampa International Airport on Monday to announce that Florida's tourism industry set a record in 2014.

    The state attracted 97.3 million visitors, and the Tampa Bay region certainly did its share of the work.

    On the Pinellas side of the bay, the county set its own record with 5.9 million tourists spending the night in 2014.

    In Hillsborough, hotels reached 70 percent occupancy for the first time in county history and generated a record $540 million in gross revenue....

    Clearwater Beach is packed on a Friday afternoon last March, contributing to Pinellas County’s record tourism numbers in 2014. Gov. Rick Scott says he expects the state to eclipse the 100 million mark in total tourists this year.
  5. USF's downtown medical school hopes rest in Tallahassee


    This week, supporters of the University of South Florida's proposed urban medical school will again seek the approval of the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.

    It's another big vote for the USF project. But it's not the vote.

    That's because the fate of the $157 million development will ultimately be decided by Florida's most powerful politicians.

    "It's about he who holds the purse strings," said former Sen. Paula Dockery, "and he who controls the one holding the purse strings."...

  6. Jeff Vinik planning — but not yet ready to build — new corporate headquarters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik is still searching for a Fortune 500 corporation to move its headquarters to his $1 billion downtown redevelopment project.

    And when he finds one, he wants to be ready to move fast.

    That's why his real estate entity, Strategic Property Partners, is already designing the proposed corporate headquarters that will help anchor Vinik's project.

    "You cannot be opportunistic if you're not ready to pull the trigger," said SPP's managing director of development, Bob Abberger, a veteran Tampa developer. "We're proceeding with the designs and plans because we want to be permit-ready."...

  7. Disney announces plans for 'Star Wars' cruises in 2016


    This has to be more fun than the prequels:

    Disney Cruise Line on Thursday announced Star Wars Day at Sea, a daylong event that will be held aboard eight select sailings of the Disney Fantasy in 2016.

    Star Wars joins Frozen, Pirates of the Caribbean and Pixar as the popular Disney properties that have earned a special celebration at sea aboard Disney's cruise ships....

    Eight 2016 sailings on the Disney Fantasy will include a Star Wars Day at Sea with myriad events. 
  8. Pinellas' edgy 'WinterBlows' campaign aimed at millennials in New York and Chicago



    Millennials are a conundrum to marketers. • "They're almost impossible to market to because they don't want to be marketed to," said Pinellas tourism chief David Downing. "The thinking is that engagement, on their level, on their turf, is a good way to start." • Which explains all those mysterious, snarky snowmen that recently started popping up in New York City and Chicago, the ones holding signs that read "Sunshine or bust!" and "Even I've had enough!" At the bottom of those signs, a mystery URL: winterblows.com. • That's how the Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete-Clearwater captured the attention of millennials this winter: with a stealth campaign launched amid the agency's traditional marketing blizzard up north....

    New Winter Campaigns Employ Sun, Snow and Mystery  "Visit St. Pete/Clearwater" Penn Station NYC  Winter Blows 	   NYC Photos & Videos | Chicago Photos & Videos | Branded Campaign  St.Pete/Clearwater (Feb. 12, 2015) - Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's annual winter marketing blitz in the area's massive feeder markets of New York City and Chicago has rolled out with a unique, engaging twist this year that has passers-by slowing down to stop, stare---and smile.   This winter, in addition to billboard-size ads on subways and buses and captivating beach scenes on office tower elevator screens, VSPC initiated a second guerrilla marketing campaign featuring snowmen, snow stencils and magnets touting a sole "WinterBlows.com" call to action. The site displays real-time blustery, snow-swirled images of Old Man Winter's grip on northern climes before resolving into enticing sun-soaked real-time images of St. Pete/Clearwater and offering the chance to win a getawaay.  The guerrilla marketing outreach, which has garnered significant Twitter and Instagram engagement at #WinterBlows, was designed to engage those who don't normally respond to traditional marketing---mainly millennials---and to create shareable moments that have made the popular campaign go viral in both cities, including features on ABC 7 in Chicago, Fox 5 in NYC and on numerous blogs throughout both areas.  "This is a natural evolution of brand positioning for us," said VSPC Executive Director David Downing. "Of course, we're still focusing the bulk of our marketing efforts on our core visitors, but we're also reaching out to new demographics who otherwise might not know we exist. It's both a brand awareness move and a long term play for future visitors, so we're starting with a simple, fun engagement opportunity."  HO_391597_WINTERBLOWS.jpg New Winter Campaigns Employ Sun, Snow and Mystery  "Visit St. Pete/Clearwater"  Winter Blows 	   NYC Photos & Videos | Chicago Photos & Videos | Branded Ca
  9. Got $25 million to spare? USF would like a moment of your time


    TAMPA — The University of South Florida's ambitious plan to erect a new 12-story medical education, research and treatment center downtown faces two final hurdles.

    Both involve money.

    The $157 million project needs $57 million in state funding. Officials are confident they'll eventually get it.

    But USF must also raise $25 million more in private donations.

    Much more than a medical school is at stake: USF's project is one of the tentpoles of Jeff Vinik's $1 billion plan to redevelop downtown. For Tampa, as Mayor Bob Buckhorn put it, the project will be "bigger than baseball."...

    USF’s medical school is named for auto magnate Frank Morsani and his wife, Carol.
  10. Port Tampa Bay made short list for Volkswagen's business


    TAMPA — The Volkswagen Group recently put Port Tampa Bay on its short list of American ports vying to receive a new stream of Mexican-made Volks­wagens and German-made Audis.

    Port Tampa Bay made its pitch over the summer. Volkswagen hasn't picked a winner yet, but port officials said the multinational eliminated Tampa from the competition before Christmas.

    What's important to port officials, however, is that they were in the running in the first place....

  11. Port Tampa Bay well positioned for the future, CEO says

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — The state of Port Tampa Bay is good, CEO Paul Anderson said, and it's getting better.

    But the port isn't just focused on improvement, Anderson told a crowd of more than 300 gathered for the annual state of the port address on Tuesday.

    Port Tampa Bay is hoping that two years of branding, marketing and infrastructure investments will soon pay off with new cargos — and new revenues....

    Tampa Port Authority Chief Executive Officer Paul Anderson announces the new name of the port as Port Tampa Bay. It was announced during the State of the Port meeting held in Cruise Terminal 2 on Wednesday 1/22/14
  12. USF medical school plans for downtown Tampa delayed

    Economic Development

    JACKSONVILLE — It has been a smooth ride for the University of South Florida's proposed downtown Tampa medical school. In the past four months the project has won nothing but accolades and approving votes.

    The victory tour came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday.

    The medical school faced a crucial vote for state funding from the Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System. But the meeting quickly unraveled when a handful of governors complained they didn't know enough to start spending tens of millions....

    The USF project is part of developer Jeff Vinik’s Tampa vision.
  13. More big votes on tap for USF's downtown medical school proposal


    TAMPA — The movement to build the University of South Florida's next medical school inside Jeff Vinik's downtown redevelopment project has scored two wins at home.

    Now it needs to win on the road.

    USF's proposal needs $62 million in state funding. That must be approved by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.

    The board is set to hold two votes on the proposal when it meets today and Thursday at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville....

  14. Buckhorn vows (again) to fix downtown streetcar

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn has vowed to save downtown's struggling streetcar — once again.

    If that sounds familiar, it's because the mayor also vowed to save it back in 2012. But downtown's underused, underfunded trolley system remains in distress.

    But this time, the mayor said, he really means it.

    "I'm happy to take ownership of this," Buckhorn said, "because I do think we need to resolve this."...

    Tampa’s struggling downtown trolley hasn’t seen any funding from the Port Authority since 2012.
  15. Tampa Port Authority urges support for Hillsborough schools superintendent


    TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority on Tuesday morning waded into Hillsborough County's biggest controversy: whether or not school superintendent MaryEllen Elia should keep her job.

    The answer is an unequivocal yes, said Hillsborough County Commission Chairwoman Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board.

    She asked the port board to support the superintendent. After some disagreement, they voted 4-2 in her favor....