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. Tampa International Airport's ex-lawyer being investigated for possible Sunshine Law violation


    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.
  2. 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.
  3. Blue Ocean Film Fest mixes Hollywood, marine science in St. Petersburg


    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.
  4. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is promoted by the NFL in October, but Domestic Violence Awareness Month is not


    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."...

  5. Officials: Man dies after putting self in front of Tampa airport tram


    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....

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


    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.
  7. Family of man who died in fall down Tampa International Airport elevator shaft sues


    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.
  8. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik pays $150 million for Tampa Marriott Waterside


    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
  9. Tampa Electric's solar project at TIA would be Tampa Bay's largest


    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. [
  10. Edelweiss Air increasing TIA flights to three a week in 2015


    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.
  11. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's downtown plans not just for charity

    Economic Development


    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....

    Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik watches the game against the Dallas Stars on Friday. Vinik is trying to bring in major employers to support his franchise and downtown redevelopment project.
  12. 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....

    Bob Abberger  was hired to manage the development and execution of the master plan for Channelside.
  13. 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."...

    The 719-room Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.
  14. 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.
  15. U.S. transportation secretary stresses regional approach to transportation

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx delivered a message to local business leaders on Thursday: Work together to fulfill the region's transportation ambitions.

    "I know that there are some efforts to create a bold transit vision here in the area," Foxx told reporters after the meeting, "and you have to come together as a community to get that done."

    But while Foxx stressed the value of a regional approach to transportation challenges, Thursday's meeting lacked regional representation....

    Anthony Foxx stressed a regional approach to crucial issues.