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

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  1. Copa Airlines CEO says a good holiday could lead to daily Tampa flights year-round

    Airlines

    TAMPA — Copa Airlines CEO Pedro Heilbron said that a successful winter holiday for his airline flying from Tampa International Airport could help decide whether Copa will fly daily from Tampa to Latin America year-round.

    In December, Copa started service to Tampa four times a week, giving the bay area its first direct flight to Latin America. Copa's passengers can use the airline's hub at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to catch connecting flights all over Central and South America....

  2. USF trustees endorse downtown Tampa medical school

    Business

    TAMPA — The dean of the University of South Florida's medical school on Thursday implored a key group of trustees to bless the rise of a new downtown medical school.

    It would reshape USF and Tampa, Dr. Charles Lockwood told them.

    Then the dean called in his closer: Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

    "This decision is the single most important that has occurred in the last 25 years," Buckhorn said. "This is bigger than baseball."...

    An artist’s rendering shows what the new 12-story Morsani College of Medicine building could look like in downtown Tampa.
  3. Greenlight Pinellas has big backers in big business

    Business

    The Greenlight Pinellas referendum to expand public transportation is supported by a fundraising group called Friends of Greenlight.

    Greenlight's very best friends, though, have been corporations.

    The campaign has raised $1.2 million to push Greenlight, and 95 percent of that has come from a who's who of bay area businesses: Sykes Enterprises and Sykes Investments ($100,000 total), Duke Energy and Raymond James Financial ($50,000 each), BayCare Health System ($25,000). Even Hooters ($2,500) chipped in....

  4. Tampa Port Authority votes to delay trolley subsidy

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — The Tampa Port Authority voted Tuesday to delay paying a six-figure subsidy to the city's struggling trolley until its nonprofit operator, Tampa Historic Streetcar Inc., shows the board a new business plan to turn around the streetcar system.

    The streetcar's current $1.6 million operating budget is not dependent on port funding. The port gave the trolley $100,000 in 2012.

    But this time Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board, wants the streetcar's board to hire a consultant to look at ways to improve its operations before she votes to give it any more money. She also wants the streetcar people to work with the port as it develops a master plan for its downtown holdings in the Channel District and the Channelside Bay Plaza outdoor mall....

    TP_333948_WALL_streetcar_1 (02/01/2011 Tampa) LEDE: Conductor Joe Del Vecchio (CQ) welcomes passengers on the new extension of the TECO Streetcar Line at the Whiting Street station, which is colorfully lit in the backround. On Monday officials celebrated the grand opening of the station, which started operating in Dec. The $5.3 million project was funded mostly by federal funds, and links downtown Tampa to residential areas, restaurants, hotels and entertainment. The one-third mile extension makes the entire line 2.7 miles long with an eleventh station at Whiting Street.  [DANIEL WALLACE, Times]
  5. Tampa International Airport's ex-lawyer being investigated for possible Sunshine Law violation

    Airlines

    TAMPA — The Florida Bar is investigating whether former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority attorney Gigi Rechel, who abruptly resigned Thursday, violated the state's Sunshine Law governing open public records.

    The Bar said Friday that it's conducting an inquiry into Rechel in her capacity as the authority's general counsel. Rechel, 53, spent 15 years giving legal advice to the board that oversees Tampa International Airport before announcing her immediate retirement....

    Gigi Rechel resigned on Thursday. She’ll stay on until Jan. 15.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik will donate land for downtown USF medical school

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik wants the University of South Florida to build a new medical school on his downtown property so badly that he's willing to give the school an acre of his land to seal the deal.

    The Tampa Bay Lightning owner made the offer this week to USF president Judy Genshaft and Dr. Charles Lockwood, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, according to a university spokesman....

    Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has amassed a significant chunk of southern downtown around the team’s home at the Amalie Arena: the Channelside Bay Plaza outdoor mall, the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina and 24 empty acres around the arena. He is set to unveil plans to transform the area into a walkable entertainment district and he also wants to attract major employers in high-end industries to his redevelopment project, including, perhaps, the University of South Florida’s new medical school.
  7. Blue Ocean Film Fest mixes Hollywood, marine science in St. Petersburg

    Tourism

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Blue Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit is set to debut Nov. 2 in its new U.S. host city: downtown St. Petersburg.

    Think of it as Comic-Con for underwater educators, filmmakers and scientists.

    There will be Hollywood stars, such as Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, who will screen his ocean pollution documentary Trashed, and star scientists, including legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, whose work to save the oceans is the subject of the film Mission Blue....

    In Trashed, actor Jeremy Irons travels around the world to discover the extent and effects of global waste.
  8. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is promoted by the NFL in October, but Domestic Violence Awareness Month is not

    Business

    Every NFL season, Bobbie Shay Lee sees a battle of pink vs. purple. In October, the National Football League turns pink. Players wear pink gloves and pink cleats, honoring the pink ribbon that symbolizes Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Its symbol is the purple ribbon. Lee is a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader and domestic violence advocate who was diagnosed with breast cancer 16 years ago. She believes that the women's cause that the NFL chooses to support is telling. "Both of the issues share the same awareness month," she said. "Yet I've seen nothing to show support or awareness of the domestic violence community. "We're right back on the pink bandwagon."...

    The NFL’s pink ribbon logo, part of the league’s efforts to promote Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is criticized by some as insincere.
  9. Officials: Man dies after putting self in front of Tampa airport tram

    Airlines

    TAMPA — A 44-year-old man from New Jersey died Sunday at Tampa International Airport after airport officials said he walked onto the shuttle bridge and appeared to intentionally place himself in front of an oncoming tram.

    Airport officials Monday identified him as Jeffrey Ober of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

    According to the airport, the incident occurred around 8:40 a.m. Sunday.

    Ober had booked a ticket on JetBlue Airways and his flight was set to depart Tampa at 10:57 a.m. for John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York....

  10. Hillsborough sets tourist tax record while Pinellas nears new record

    Tourism

    TAMPA — Tourism officials knew last month that Hillsborough County would set a bed tax collection record in fiscal year 2014. The fiscal year ended in September, and now the record is official.

    Hillsborough County collected $23.7 million in tourist development taxes, according to tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay. That is the best year ever for tourist bed tax collections.

    The tourist tax is a 5 percent surcharge levied on every hotel room and short-term rental in the county. The tax is considered a reliable indicator of the county's tourism market because it tracks the volume of accommodations booked in the county....

    The Falcon's Fury drop tower at Busch Gardens was one new draw for tourism in Hillsborough County.
  11. Family of man who died in fall down Tampa International Airport elevator shaft sues

    Airlines

    TAMPA — The family of a Pennsylvania man who died last year after falling down a parking garage elevator shaft at Tampa International Airport has filed a wrongful death suit against the elevator company and the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

    Chad Wolfe, a 31-year-old mechanic from West Newton, Pa., was last seen alive around 1 a.m. on March 15, 2013, when airport officials said he was seen entering Elevator 21 on the terminal's third floor. He took the elevator to the seventh floor parking garage, officials said, where his carry-on bags and cellphone were later found....

    Chad Wolfe, 31, of West Newton, Pa., was last seen alive March 15, 2013, entering Elevator 21 on the terminal’s third floor, TIA officials said. His body was found on top of the elevator car.
  12. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik pays $150 million for Tampa Marriott Waterside

    Business

    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's ownership group is paying $150 million to buy the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, making it the most expensive acquisition yet in his downtown real estate empire.

    The price for the 719-room waterfront hotel is more than the $110 million that Vinik is believed to have paid for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the lease to the Amalie Arena in 2010.

    Vinik's group closed the deal to buy the hotel Wednesday night. The paperwork detailing the price was filed Thursday....

    Jeff Vinik has closed on a deal to buy the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. The price was $150 million. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times
]
  13. Tampa Electric's solar project at TIA would be Tampa Bay's largest

    Energy

    TAMPA — The city's electric utility and international airport are teaming up to build one of the largest solar energy installations in the Tampa Bay region.

    If successful, the project could spark even more bay area investment in solar power, a renewable energy source that has been slow to take off in the Sunshine State.

    Tampa Electric Co. president Gordon Gillette said the lessons his utility would learn from installing 280,000 square feet of solar panels on top of Tampa International Airport's south economy parking garage would shape the company's plans for solar energy....

    Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa Electric, points to a rendering of an array of solar panels that would be built on top of Tampa International Airport’s south economy parking garage.
  14. Edelweiss Air increasing TIA flights to three a week in 2015

    Airlines

    TAMPA — Edelweiss Air's route connecting Tampa to Zurich continues to be one of Tampa International Airport's big international success stories. It also has been a big success for the airline: That's why Edelweiss announced Monday that it will increase its overseas flights to Tampa from twice a week to three times a week starting in June.

    "This is an effect of our success that we have seen on the route since its start," Edelweiss chief commercial officer Alain Chisari said in a prepared statement....

    Edelweiss Air, the company that flies nonstop from Tampa International Airport to Zurich, was lured from Orlando to TIA in 2012.
  15. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's downtown plans not just for charity

    Economic Development

    TAMPA

    Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik wants to create a vibrant urban district in his adopted hometown that will rival any city in the nation.

    It will be a place with "a soul and a spirit," said Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke.

    That feng shui, though, also comes with a bottom-line business plan.

    That's because the Lightning owner's team is still unprofitable.

    To reverse that, Team Vinik is trying to bring in major employers like corporate and educational tenants to support his hockey franchise and downtown redevelopment project. It's a plan that now has the backing of billionaire Bill Gates' personal investment fund....

    Jayden Hyland, 10, of Tampa waves his Tampa Bay Lightning flag during an NHL preseason game against the Dallas Stars at the Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday. The Lightning has not turned a profit since Jeff Vinik bought the franchise in 2010.