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. 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]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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."...

    Pink cleats are worn by NFL players during October. But some critics point out that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
  6. 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....

  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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
]
  10. 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 an artist rendering of a canopy of solar panels that will be built on top of Tampa International Airport's South Economy Parking Garage after a press conference Tuesday at the airport. [
JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
  11. 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....

    Passengers wait for their nonstop flight to Zurich through Edelweiss Airlines at Tampa International Airport.
  12. 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. 
  13. Bill Gates investment fund will partner with Vinik on Channelside

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Bill Gates' riches will help fuel Jeff Vinik's vision.

    An investment fund controlled by Microsoft's billionaire founder will help finance the Tampa Bay Lightning owner's ambitious plan to build a massive entertainment, office, residential and retail district around the Amalie Arena.

    "This has the potential to be a billion-dollar development," said Vinik's top lieutenant, Tod Leiweke, during a 90-minute interview at the arena Thursday....

    Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, right, is partnering with an investment fund controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, left, to develop a master plan for 24 acres Vinik owns around Amalie Arena. [AP photo, WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]
  14. Jeff Vinik believed to be buyer looking at Tampa's Marriott Waterside

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Someone is looking to buy the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

    Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's development team has talked to City Hall about the idea.

    And Mayor Bob Buckhorn believes the prospective buyer and Vinik are one and the same.

    "I am ever hopeful, cautiously optimistic and will be extremely pleased if he's able to do this," said Buckhorn, who said he spoke to Vinik's representatives about their desire to buy the Marriott in the last two to three weeks. "I know that they were interested, and they were going to pursue it."...

    Jeff Vinik has plans for a new hotel near the Amalie Arena.
  15. Tampa woman with three breasts? Suitcase find points to false front

    Bizarre News

    TAMPA — The tale told by the Tampa woman who claims she had a third breast implanted onto her chest created an Internet sensation.

    Now that story seems to be unraveling. But the woman who calls herself Jasmine Tridevil isn't backing down.

    The woman — she's actually Alisha Jasmine Hessler, 21 — said she paid $20,000 to an unidentified plastic surgeon to perform the procedure. She also hired a camera crew to film her so that she can star in her own MTV reality show....

    Alisha Jasmine Hessler, who favors the name Jasmine Tridevil, is sticking to her story of a third breast.