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. A banner 2013 for Pinellas tourism is leading to a strong 2014


    2012 was Pinellas County's best year ever for tourism. But it didn't get to hold the record for long.

    That's because 2013 results are in, and now it stands as the best year ever in the annals of Pinellas tourism.

    The county saw a record 5,579,900 overnight visitors from January to December 2013. That's 144,900 more visitors than the old 2012 record, a bump of 2.6 percent.

    But 2013 is already in the rearview mirror for D.T. Minich, the executive director of the Pinellas tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater....

    Avery Young, 2, plays with her dad, Steve Young, at Clearwater Beach earlier this year. The Young family was vacationing from Michigan. Last year the Midwest sent 1,608,969 visitors to Pinellas County, an increase of 21,182.
  2. Empty parking lot at center of Channelside deal



    Channelside Bay Plaza is a dining and retail complex that for years has offered little of either. A few stalwart businesses persevere while the foreclosed mall is stuck in real estate purgatory. Its future along the downtown waterfront is being decided in a bitter legal struggle.

    Yet of all the misery and misfortune that Channelside has suffered over the years, this may be the worst indignity:...

    The fate of Channelside Bay Plaza is strongly tied to an empty 5-acre lot that has been assessed at $11.7 million.
  3. Tampa Port Authority vows to continue fight for Channelside

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Buoyed by its win in court last week, the Tampa Port Authority vowed Tuesday to continue fighting for Channelside Bay Plaza.

    "We cannot let it slip through our fingers," said Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who sits on the port's governing board.

    The board members wanted to make sure that CEO Paul Anderson and chief legal officer Charles Klug have the legal and financial firepower they need to prevail in the court case that will decide Channelside's fate....

  4. Sandpearl Resort's casual luxury starts with happy hotel staff


    CLEARWATER BEACH — The Sandpearl Resort was built in 2007 to replace the historic Clearwater Beach Hotel — but not to replace what the historic hotel stood for.

    The new hotel was built by developer Mike Cheezem and the Hunter family, who owned the old hotel. They wanted to maintain the spirit of relaxed luxury of the resort's historic predecessor.

    The new resort had to look great but feel casual. But to do that, it also had to maintain the family-like work atmosphere for the staff....

    LaTesha Crawford cheerfully holds the door open for guests at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach. “Do you see my beautiful view?” she says. “Who wouldn’t want my view? Who could be unhappy with that view?”
  5. Judge hands Tampa Port Authority some wins, a loss in Channelside case


    TAMPA — The bankruptcy judge overseeing Channelside Bay Plaza handed the Tampa Port Authority some wins but one notable loss in the ongoing court battle on Wednesday.

    The judge dismissed the claims for damages made against the port by Liberty Channelside LLC, which is waging a tenacious legal campaign against the port for control of Channelside.

    But the port also failed to get U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Sontchi to give up jurisdiction over Channelside, and the judge indicated during the hearing that he may continue to chip away at the port's rights over the complex....

  6. New local dining, drinking brands part of Tampa International Airport's plan


    TAMPA — The options for eating and drinking at Tampa International Airport will be revamped and expanded in the next three years. But Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, who sits on the board that runs the airport, had this question about those options during Thursday's board meeting:

    How can the airport make sure that Tampa Bay's iconic local brands are part of that new lineup?...

  7. Manaphin is a hoax, but marketing is real for Pinellas beaches


    CLEARWATER — It was the perfect April Fool's Day prank for the age of the hashtag.

    Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, the agency that markets the Pinellas beaches to the world, sent out a news release Tuesday at 6 a.m. claiming that "officials have confirmed the sighting of a rare marine mammal off the coast of St. Pete/Clearwater last week."

    The creature was a "combination dolphin/manatee."...

    This is the “manaphin,” a creature created by Visit St. Pete-Clearwater to market Pinellas beaches on April Fool’s Day. The prank drew praise as one of the top business hoaxes of the day.
  8. Tampa, Manatee ports eye each other warily


    The ports harbor similar ambitions, chase the same cargoes, pine for the same markets. Both open into Tampa Bay, separated by just a few miles.

    Yet Port Manatee and Port Tampa Bay could not be further apart.

    Part of it is natural rivalry. Lately, it has been more personal.

    Port Manatee officials charged that Port Tampa Bay tried to take over their port. Tampa officials denied that....

  9. Port Tampa Bay pines for Latin America's pineapples


    TAMPA — There's a great future in pineapples, or so the Tampa Port Authority hopes.

    The port hosted the International Pineapple Organization's second annual Global Pineapple Conference this past week.

    Industry players — growers, importers, producers and shippers — gathered in Tampa to hobnob at the Columbia Restaurant and listen to serious discussions about, of course, pineapples....

    Port Tampa Bay wants to diversify into more profitable cargoes, including fruit. To that end, it plans to build an $18 million refrigerated facility on Hooker’s Point. It’s the large gray warehouse next to the rail loop in this artist’s rendering.
  10. After courtroom loss, Tampa Port Authority readies for Channelside fight


    TAMPA — Channelside Bay Plaza is dying. Board members of the Tampa Port Authority believe only they can save it.

    But they lost a crucial round in their fight last month when a federal bankruptcy judge dismissed their $5.75 million deal to buy the deteriorating development.

    Dismayed port officials say they were not allowed to fully present their arguments and witnesses at that hearing, the legal equivalent of having to fight with one hand tied behind their backs....

  11. Channelside has a new suitor

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Channelside Bay Plaza is buried in litigation and cannot be sold right now.

    So, of course, someone tried to buy it on Tuesday.

    And by doing so he raised the price for everyone else who wants to make a serious offer.

    Benjamin Mallah Sr. said he's willing to pay $7.5 million — the highest offer made public — for the dilapidated downtown mall.

    The president and CEO of Equity Management Partners Inc. of Largo declared his interest in buying the mortgage to the Channelside building during Tuesday's meeting of the Tampa Port Authority governing board....

  12. First flier 'precheck' center opens, so you can keep your shoes on


    TAMPA — Savvy air travelers have several options for getting through airport security quicker. One of those is the Transportation Security Administration's "precheck" program, which allows fliers to undergo background checks in advance of their flights, so that they can get into the expedited screening lines at airports.

    But Tampa Bay travelers had a problem: There was no local precheck center for them to apply in person. Cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville have such offices....

  13. Medicinal marijuana at Tampa International Airport provokes laughter, questions


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist was being very serious Thursday when he raised a subject that caused the rest of the crowd to start giggling uncontrollably:

    What should Tampa International Airport do if Florida voters or legislators approve the use of medicinal marijuana?

    Crist sits on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority board, which runs TIA. He immediately said to media attending the board meeting that he was not weighing in on the issue itself....

  14. Tampa International Airport cuts first $29.9 million check for expansion


    TAMPA — A day after Gov. Rick Scott made a $194 million pledge to help pay for the biggest expansion in Tampa International Airport history, the board that governs the airport cut its first big check for the project.

    The Hillsborough County Aviation Authority voted Thursday to pay Austin Commercial up to $29.9 million to design and oversee construction of the newest additions to the airport....

    These are slides of what the new sign being built at the entrance of Tampa International Airport. It is called a “welcome feature,” costs up to $660,000 and will light up with different colors at night. One slide is an artist’s rendering of what the sign will look like during the day, and the other is what the sign will look like at night.
  15. Gov. Scott announces $194 million in state funds to help expand Tampa International Airport (w/video)


    TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott wants to tout the biggest transportation budget in state history as he campaigns for re-election. Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano needs state money to help fund the biggest expansion in airport history.

    These two guys should get together.

    That's exactly what they did Wednesday as Gov. Scott announced in front of TV cameras and an adoring throng of local officials that he earmarked $194 million to help pay for the expansion of TIA....

    An artist’s rendering shows the new sign being built at the entrance of Tampa International Airport. It is called a “welcome  feature,” costs up to $660,000 and will light up with different colors at night.