1990-2000: Businesses, community expand
By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
As Findlay entered the 1990s and the twilight of the 20th century, it was business as usual.
Progress continued to be the order of the day in all areas of the community.
But the decade arrived with a wintry blast as a February 1990 storm glazed northern Ohio with ice, bringing down tree limbs, electric poles and lines. Thousands of homes lost electricity during the storm. Damage-related costs totaled more than $250,000 locally.
Later that month, hundreds of motorists found themselves stranded in Findlay when a fierce winter storm hit, causing whiteout conditions and icy roads. More than 100 accidents occurred countywide.
Floods were part of the local weather scene, as well. The city battled high water in 1991, 1992 and 1998. Residents also felt the earth move when a small earthquake rattled the area in 1990. No damage or injuries were reported from the quake which registered a magnitude of 2.5 on the Richter scale.
The community was moved in a different way when the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, brought his message of love and compassion to Findlay in 1991.
The Dalai Lama was just one of several dignitaries to visit the city during the decade.
President George Bush was a frequent visitor, bringing his presidential campaign to the area twice in 1992. Later, in 1998, Bush visited Findlay as a former president to raise funds for then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich.
Other visitors included Vice President Dan Quayle, who sampled hamburgers at Wilson’s in 1990, and President Bill Clinton, who spoke in Arlington and passed through Findlay during a train tour of Ohio in 1996.
Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole also made a local campaign stop that same year.
The city’s 35,703 residents saw the business community continue to change, with several expansions and mergers. Some longtime businesses also closed their doors.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. in December 1992 undertook a 163,000-square-foot addition to its Findlay plant as part of a $9.5 million project. A few years later, Cooper built a $14.4 million tire molds manufacturing plant in the Tall Timbers Industrial Center.
Harris Corp. announced it would invest $20 million in its Findlay plant in 1994 to increase plant capacity and upgrade technology. In 1999, the plant was sold to another company and the name was changed to Intersil.
Hercules Tire & Rubber Co. unveiled plans in 1998 to build a $12.5 million distribution center at the intersection of Hancock County 236 and 212.
At the Lake Cascades Office Park complex, three companies — Findlay Publishing Co.’s broadcast operations, Pry CPA Services and National Lime and Stone Co. — announced intentions to build a new facility in 1991.
Retailers also made some noteworthy decisions during the decade. Walmart became the anchor store for a new $11.2 million shopping center on Findlay’s east side in 1990, while Lowe’s opened a 65,000-square-foot store in 1993. At the end of 1999, plans were in the works for Lowe’s to build a new superstore.
A $25 million expansion and renovation project at the Findlay Village Mall was completed in 1990, and Kohl’s Department Store opened a 75,000-square-foot department store in 1994 on Tiffin Avenue.
In downtown Findlay, a new Rite Aid Pharmacy was built at Center and North Main streets in 1997.
Two huge distribution centers, one for Kohl’s and one for Best Buy, opened in the 1990s. Kohl’s Distribution began its operations in 1994 on Hancock County 140. That same year, Best Buy Co. picked Findlay as the site for a major distribution center on Township 212, north of the Tall Timbers Industrial Center.
Significant mergers also took place during the 1990s.
Marathon Oil Co. and Ashland Inc. decided in 1996 to consolidate their refining, marketing and transportation operations in a joint venture called Marathon Ashland Petroleum (MAP). MAP was headquartered in Findlay.
In 1998, OHM Corp. was acquired by Pittsburgh-based International Technology in a cash and stock transaction valued at about $365 million.
Another merger involved Ohio Bank, Findlay’s last locally-owned bank, which agreed to join with Citizens Bancshares of Salineville and Mid Am Inc. of Bowling Green in a stock transaction valued at about $191 million. The deal was completed in 1998. Ohio Bank, while keeping its name, became part of Sky Financial Group.
Meanwhile, Columbus-based Banc One Ohio Corp. in 1992 bought a majority of Dana’s Diamond Savings and Loan Co., based in Findlay. Three years later, Banc One Mortgage Corp. decided to consolidate its mortgage processing centers, and located one of the new centers in Findlay at the site of the former downtown Elder-Beerman store.
In 1997, the Findlay-Hancock County Community Development Foundation (CDF) and the Findlay-Hancock Chamber of Commerce agreed to merge, with the CDF becoming a division of the chamber.
In 1999, the Fostoria Review Times newspaper was purchased by the Findlay Publishing Co., publishers of the Courier.
The decade also marked the end of three longtime Findlay businesses: Fenstermaker’s Shoe Co., Parker True Value Building Center, and Kaminsky Jewelers.
Findlay’s Sundor Brands plant transferred production lines to other states, then closed the local factory. The Quality Stores distribution center left town a few years later. The center needed more space and moved to Fostoria.
Findlay’s low-power television station, WFND-TV 47, suspended local live programming as the station’s management was cut back and restructured in 1995. Later, the station went off the air.
Fires caused millions of dollars worth of damage to several local businesses.
A 1994 blaze destroyed Findlay’s City Laundry and Dry Cleaning Co. on East Main Cross Street. Losses were estimated at $3 million to $5 million. The company constructed a new building in the Westfield Industrial Park and a new retail store on East Main Cross.
In 1995, five buildings at the northeast corner of Center and North Main streets were destroyed by fire. A year later, a blaze at Roger’s Pallet Service on Crystal Avenue resulted in $400,000 in damage.
A fallen electrical line was blamed for starting an Easter Sunday fire in the storage yard at Hantech in 1998. The blaze sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky and generated billowing clouds of black smoke. Damage was estimated at more than $1 million.
City and county government leaders kept busy during the decade.
In 1992-93, Findlay City Council approved the purchase of the Marathon Oil Co. airport and its facilities, while the city’s newest fire station on County 236 was dedicated in 1997. The station serves the eastern portion of the city.
In 1999, council gave the go-ahead for a $34 million expansion of the city’s sewer system.
The Hancock County commissioners decided in 1997 to close the 130-year-old county home, saying it was no longer economical and feasible to operate. Thirty-five residents were moved to other care facilities. The old county home was renovated for offices in 1998, and the Hancock County Educational Service Center became the first tenant.
In 1990, the Hancock County Children Services board voted to combine the agency with the county Department of Human Services. A new office building was erected on county-owned property south of the county home, and the department moved into its new $1.37 million home in 1993.
Hancock County officials dedicated their new court building on Broadway in 1991, after the 124-year-old building underwent $600,000 in renovations. The structure, which previously housed the sheriff’s department and the Republican-Courier offices, became home to the county’s probate and juvenile court.
Both the Findlay and Hancock County health boards approved regulations in 1993 that banned smoking in most public places and workplaces in the city and county.
In 1998, the county commissioners approved buying a downtown building, the Midtowne Centre Building on West Main Cross, for $1.25 million. It was renovated to provide offices for the commissioners, the county auditor, treasurer, recorder and title office.
A local landmark was lost in 1990 when the old post office on Broadway, which became a library in 1930, was razed. The building, constructed near the turn of the century, was torn down to make room for a $3.8 million expansion project at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library.
A major project began at the Hancock Historical Museum, a $2 million campaign to renovate and expand the main facility on West Sandusky Street.
In the health arena, Blanchard Valley Hospital and Bluffton Community Hospital merged in 1995, changing their names to Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center. A year earlier, Blanchard Valley Hospital had opened its new Caughman Health Clinic for residents unable to find a doctor.
In 1993, the Blanchard Valley Health Association (BVHA) bought the downtown Sherman House for $720,000, converting the former downtown Findlay hotel and apartment complex into an independent living facility, primarily for senior citizens.
Another BVHA purchase, Winebrenner Village at 415 College St., was made in 1997. Earlier in the decade, a $2.4 million care center, designed for adults suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases, was opened at the Winebrenner complex.
A new urgent care center, Physicians Plus, was opened by BVHA in 1998 at the corner of Allen Township 99 and North Main Street.
Among notable education-related projects, Findlay school board decided in 1999 to fund three building additions with a bank loan, rather than a traditional bond issue. The $4.5 million project added classrooms at Findlay High, Whittier Primary and Wilson Vance Intermediate School.
Owens Technical College broke ground for a $2.1 million building on its Findlay campus in 1990. The community college also opened a 23,000-square-foot Center for Development and Training on Findlay’s Commerce Parkway in 1998.
The University of Findlay, meanwhile, announced a campaign in 1996 to raise $27.5 million through the year 2000 to construct a health sciences building and a recreation center, renovate Old Main, make technological improvements and strengthen its endowment.
In 1994, the $3 million Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion was dedicated at the university. In 1999, the university opened the $11 million Ralph and Gladys Koehler Fitness and Recreation Complex.
Social service agencies were also busy during the 1990s. Major projects included a 4,800-square-foot addition at the Salvation Army headquarters in 1993, and a two-story addition for the Findlay City Mission in 1998.
The Winfield Child Development Center, operated by the HHWP Community Action Commission, opened in 1997 in the former Parkview Church of Christ to house the county’s Head Start program.
An ongoing project was the Findlay Family YMCA’s $5 million capital campaign to renovate and expand the structure, which was built in 1963.
The YMCA moved its day care facilities into the former Marathon Pipe Line Co. building at 231 E. Lincoln St. in 1998. A few years earlier, the Y joined with Hope House to open the Hardin House for the Homeless, to provide a shelter for homeless women and their children, at 331 E. Hardin St.
The Lincoln Center moved into new quarters at 1918 N. Main St. in 1990. In 1997, the center, along with Family Service of Hancock County and the John C. Hutson Center, consolidated into a single agency called Century Health.
The Hancock County Community Partnership also was developed in 1990.
The L. Dale Dorney Fund in 1999 became independent of the Cleveland Foundation and changed its name to the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation.
Other significant local events included the opening of a new $3 million Findlay Country Club and the Hancock Park District’s 227-acre Litzenberg Memorial Woods, both in 1995. The park is west of Findlay.
Notable Findlay area deaths during the decade included Jackson E. Betts, Hancock County’s former congressman for 22 years and a former speaker of the Ohio House, who died in 1993 at the age of 89; and former Findlay Mayor W. Bentley Burr, who died in 1994 at 78. Burr was a founder of the local Community Development Foundation and the driving force behind construction of a new municipal building in 1984.
In 1996, former Findlay Mayor Keith D. Romick, who served three terms in the city’s top office, died at age 74. Two years later, longtime Findlay Judge John Patterson died at 68. He was in his second term on the common pleas court bench. In 1999, former Ohio appeals court Judge Ralph D. Cole Jr. of Findlay, who also had served seven terms as a state representative, died at age 85.