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Findlay enters the 21st Century, celebrates Bicentennial!


Staff Writer

The decade of the 2000s — as well as 2011 and the first half of 2012 — have been a time of extremes in Findlay.

The new millennium began with a sigh of relief when the feared computer bug Y2K failed to materialize and all of the computers didn’t go haywire as predicted.

Local electric companies reported no Y2K problems because of extensive and ex­pensive preparations. The same was true at Ameritech, at local banks, at Blanchard Valley Hospital, and at Cooper Tire and Marathon.

The decade had barely started, though, when terrorists struck one clear September morning in 2001 and nearly 3,000 Americans died at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and in rural Pennsylvania.

Findlay residents mourned and prayed. They gave blood and bought thousands of flags to show their patriotism and support for the country. A Red, White & Blue Candlelight Vigil and Memorial was held downtown.

Then came natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Again, the community did its part by collecting funds and supplies to assist the evacuees.

Two years later, however, local and area residents were the ones in need of help when the Blanchard River flooded — nearly matching the famous and worst flood of 1913. Businesses, schools and homes were damaged or destroyed at a cost of millions of dollars. One man drowned when his car became trapped in high water.

Studies then began, and continue today, into how the region can control and reduce its flooding problem.

Northwestern Ohio, including Findlay and Hancock County, also caught the national economic flu. Factories closed, unemployment rates rose and governments cut back.

But through those dark times, progress has continued.

Unemployment rates for March 2012 dropped in all 88 Ohio counties, including in Hancock County, which had the eighth-lowest rate at 6.5 percent.

More jobs came to town when Marathon Oil leaders split the corporation into two publicly traded companies in 2011. Marathon Petroleum Corp. is the fifth-largest oil refiner in the country and is headquartered in Findlay, while Houston is the base for Marathon Oil Corp., which focuses on crude oil production and exploration. It’s the first time in 20 years that an independent Marathon has been headquartered in Findlay, adding jobs to the 1,500 already here.

Marathon Petroleum is also helping Findlay reduce its electric bill. A 5,100-panel solar array will be set up in a field near the sewage treatment plant off Broad Avenue and is expected to save the city about $80,000 annually.

Cooper Rubber & Tire Co. has had its ups and downs. More than 1,000 unionized workers were locked out from November 2011 until the end of February 2012, when a new five-year labor contract was ratified. Cooper continued to produce tires during the lockout using temporary workers.

Three years earlier, a campaign was mounted to persuade Cooper to keep the Findlay plant open. The city offered free water and sewer service as part of a $3 million incentive package.

Several other companies have expanded and celebrated anniversaries over the past 11½ years.

Whirlpool Corp. invested $41 million in equipment and retooling equipment early in the decade. The company also marked its 40th anniversary in 2007 and began producing Maytag, Magic Chef and Crosley standard tub dishwashers.

Early in the decade, Lowe’s and Findlay Ford Lincoln Mercury opened new, larger locations. Lowe’s built and opened a $15 million home improvement warehouse-superstore on the former site of Findlay Ford on Bright Road. The 120,000-square-foot center is twice the size of the company’s old location on Tiffin Avenue. Lowe’s also constructed a $77 million distribution center.

Findlay Ford, meanwhile, opened an 84,000-square-foot dealership on Hancock County 99. The lot accommodated 1,300 to 1,400 vehicles, as opposed to 750 to 800 that could be housed previously. However, the dealership got caught in the auto industry’s downward spiral. It was purchased for $3.4 million in 2009 and became part of Reineke Ford Lincoln Mercury.

The Tiffin Avenue Walmart underwent an 80,000-square-foot expansion in 2000, qualifying it for supercenter status. Six years later, a second Walmart supercenter opened on U.S. 224 near Interstate 75, as an anchor store at the Independence Square shopping center.

The Courier celebrated 175 years in the newspaper business in 2011. Other anniversaries were noted by Dow Chemical, 50 years; and GSW, 20 years, both in 2009.

In 2000, Kuss Corp. constructed a $15 million plant in Tall Timbers Industrial Park while Kohl’s Distribution Center undertook a $5 million expansion. It was the first brick and mortar expansion of the center on Hancock County 140 since its opening in 1994.

Home Depot opened a new 115,000-square-foot retail store on Tiffin Avenue, but it later closed. Another home improvement store, Menards, became an anchor store in the Flag City Center on property east of County 236 and north of U.S. 224 East.

CVS built a new store at the intersection of Tiffin Avenue and North Blanchard Street.

Groundbreaking on Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions’ largest facility in Ohio, on a 10.5-acre tract of land in Allen Township, was held in 2002. The 43,200-square-foot building cost $5.69 million.

Findlay also got a new theater in 2005 when the Carmike 12, a 12-screen multiplex theater, opened on Interstate Drive.

The business climate wasn’t as kind to Findlay’s Intersil Corp., which closed in 2002, causing the loss of 380 jobs. In 2005, the North Central Campus of Emerging Technologies took over the location, which also houses Brown Mackie College.

The Findlay Kmart store located in the Findlay Village Mall closed in 2003, resulting in the loss of 79 jobs. The mall also lost the Findlay Six theater in 2010. A movie theater had been at the Tiffin Avenue location since the 1970s, when the shopping center was two plazas without a mall.

Weather-wise, area farmers faced hard times in 2002. Rain kept them from planting their fields until early June. Then drought crippled the corn and soybean yields. By August, the National Weather Service said the Findlay/Hancock County area was in a “severe drought.” Some farmers said 2002 weather conditions were the worst they had experienced.

It was quite the opposite in December 2006 when a total of about 2.7 inches of rain fell on the Findlay area, according to the National Weather Service, sending the Blanchard River and area creeks over their banks. The river crested at 3.7 feet above flood stage on Dec. 2 in one of the worst floods in the city’s history.

If only residents knew what was to come.

Another 2.3 inches of rain fell in January 2007, causing flooding of many downtown and area roads and businesses near the river, and rousting 60-70 people from their homes. The river crested an inch higher than the flood during the previous month.

The river flooded again on Jan. 15, 2007, and yet again on March 3.

Before Valentine’s Day, a blizzard arrived with temperatures in the teens and winds of more than 40 mph. Snow fell at the rate of an inch an hour, accumulating to about 10 inches within a 24-hour period and either closing or delaying openings of area factories, government offices, banks and businesses.

But by early summer that year, Findlay and northwest Ohio turned a “dry, dusty brown” as drought conditions covered the state, causing the federal government to declare Ohio a disaster area. During June, only .65 inch of rain fell, compared to seven inches a year earlier for the month of June. A heat wave with temperatures pushing the 100-degree mark struck in August.

Aug. 21 brought too much rain, produced by the remnants of Hurricane Erin and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, ranging from 5 to 9 inches. The flooding Blanchard River crested at 18.5 feet, or 7.5 feet above flood stage, nearly matching the estimated record of the famous and worst flood of 1913.

Gale Augsburger, an 84-year-old resident of Hancock County, drowned when his car became trapped in high water on Ohio 235.

The flood forced the library to close, causing extensive damage to books and materials on the lower level; necessitated the closing of the bridge on East Main Cross Street over Eagle Creek after officials discovered structural damage; damaged several churches; forced the evacuation of 90 prisoners from the Hancock County jail; wiped out the 150-vehicle inventory of Treadway Chrysler Dodge on U.S. 224; and caused more than $1 million in damage to Findlay City Schools’ facilities, particularly Central Middle School.

As residents cleaned up the mess, more than 900 tons of trash went to the landfill.

More than 1,600 Hancock County households became eligible for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individual and Household Program, and the agency approved more than $6 million in grants for Findlay flood victims.

The Small Business Administration approved $8 million in loans to county flood victims.

In 2008, the city gave $50,000 to the Army Corps of Engineers to start a feasibility study on ways to control flooding of the Blanchard River, and received a $1.4 million federal grant to buy 16 flood-prone homes.

A number of businesses also formed the private, nonprofit Northwest Ohio Flood Mitigation Partnership, to seek an accelerated solution to the flooding problems in the area with the Army Corps of Engineers. In particular, the partnership worked to reduce the corps’ years-long process of determining and funding solutions.

Findlay and Ottawa experienced more flooding in 2009, and continued efforts to study and combat major flooding in the future.

The corps was expected to have a plan, and costs estimates, for a flood-control project in 2013.

A major fire in February 2012 destroyed the Argyle Building, a downtown Findlay apartment building, injuring four residents and leaving dozens of others homeless. The blaze left the four-story, 122-year-old building at 532½ S. Main St. structurally unsound, leading to fears that one or more walls could collapse. Damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $662,000. The cause of the fire could not be determined because damage was too extensive, but arson was ruled out. The building was razed.

Four years earlier, 38 people were displaced and several were left homeless when fire destroyed another downtown Findlay apartment building and an adjacent business, the Star Pawn Shop on North Main Street. No injuries were reported. An electrical problem was suspected as the cause of that blaze. The pawn shop reopened a month later in a nearby Main Street building.

Also causing destruction was the Emerald ash borer, a bug that kills ash trees. It was found in Hancock County in March 2005. Ohio Department of Agriculture officials discovered the beetle’s larvae in the branches of ash trees that were being logged out of a woodlot north of Van Buren. The metallic green beetle, which has been moving its way south from Michigan, later arrived in Findlay and began decimating the city’s ash trees.

In other matters, Findlay City Council agreed to trade a downtown parking lot and part of Dorney Plaza to Hancock County in 2003 in exchange for the Hancock Recreation Center ice arena. Three years later, $3 million in renovations were started at the center, including replacement of most of the ice-making equipment. The Hancock Leadership Class of 2007 built a $75,000 “All Star Playground” next to the Cube, the new name of the recreation center.

In 2002, the Hancock County commissioners built a one-stop building to encompass all aspects of auto licensing services on Hancock County 140.

Tony Iriti, Hancock County auditor for 16 years, was elected mayor of Findlay in 2004. During his term, he developed a plan to deal with the 300,000 to 700,000 tires at the old Brandman tire dump, located next to the Blanchard River off North Cory Street. The city purchased the site from its owner for $1. The tires were ground up and the pieces used as a liner for the Hancock County landfill.

A Lexington, Ky., developer then proposed a $90 million multi-use subdivision on the Brandman tire site and on neighboring Swale Park property. The plan called for a baseball stadium, performing arts center, retail stores and apartments.

However, Findlay voters rejected the proposed development. Afterward, the developer backed out of the project without breaking ground.

Pete Sehnert, a Republican, defeated Mayor Iriti in the Republican primary, and beat Democrat Tom Knopf for mayor of Findlay in the general election in 2007. Sehnert served one term, then was defeated in the 2011 primary by Republican Lydia Mihalik. She went on to win the general election, becoming the first woman to be elected Findlay mayor.

Transportation matters also got the attention of residents during the period.

A 26.5-mile, $99 million expansion of U.S. 30 from two to four lanes was completed in 2008. The project includes 16.2 miles of the highway in southern Hancock County.

Meanwhile, debates continued about the intersection of Ohio 15 and Western Avenue on the southwestern edge of Findlay. Over the years, at least five people have died in accidents there and many more have been seriously injured.

In 2010, residents of the Spring Lake Subdivision who frequently used the intersection were disappointed by the Ohio Department of Transportation’s decision to close the Western Avenue crossing on Ohio 15. Citing accidents and safety concerns, and following the threat of a lawsuit from one Findlay resident, the state agency decided to permanently close the crossover.

The city also saw many new facilities erected.

Winebrenner Theological Seminary built a $5.8 million structure in the 900 block of North Main Street, adjacent to the University of Findlay campus, in 2003. The two-story, 52,100-square-foot building  includes classrooms, offices and a 750-seat auditorium. The seminary was formerly located on East Melrose Avenue.

At Blanchard Valley Hospital, many buildings and offices opened, including the Thomas B. and Kathleen M. Donnell Patient Pavilion; Bridge Hospice Care Center; Wound Care Solutions; the EasternWoods Outpatient Center; Birchaven Retirement Village at EasternWoods; the Blanchard Valley Regional Cancer Center at EasternWoods; the North Baltimore Medical and Diagnostic Center; the William E. Ruse Center, which houses an emergency room, imaging services, same-day surgery and more; and Valley Health Center in Kenton, through a partnership with Hardin Memorial Hospital.

The health system also completed a $2.85 million Bluffton Hospital expansion and renovation project.

The Hancock Park District celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2000. Since then, the park district has constructed a 1.3-mile bike path from Broad Avenue to North Main street, opened a dog park at Riverbend Recreation Area, and moved its headquarters out of a building at 819 Park St. and into a larger house on East Main Cross Street along the Blanchard River.

The Lodge at Riverbend Recreation Area was renamed Brugeman Lodge, in honor of Tim Brugeman, who retired in 2008 as the Hancock Park District’s director, a job he held for 35 years.

The Hancock Historical Museum completed a $2 million renovation in 2002, giving the staff about double the space for displays and projects. The Hull House was renovated, a second story was added to the exhibit center annex, and the agricultural display barn was expanded.

Two historical homes were moved to the museum campus on West Sandusky Street. The 1843 Davis Home, one of the oldest houses in Hancock County, was moved from U.S. 224 East. The DeWald-Funk House on East Street was also relocated to the museum. Originally located in Bascom, the house was moved to Findlay in 1990 by the Historic Preservation Guild of Hancock County.

Many nonprofit agencies got a new home in 2005. The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation purchased a former Kroger store on North Blanchard Street. The building was renovated and became home to 19 nonprofits.

That same year, the assets of the community foundation doubled with a $25 million gift from the estate of Ann Arbor, Mich., resident Madeleine T. Schneider, a Findlay native and former schoolteacher. Her gift made the local foundation the 12th largest charitable foundation in Ohio.

Barbara Deerhake, who served as president of the community foundation for 21 years, retired in 2008.

The Findlay Family YMCA completed a major renovation and expansion project in 2001. Renovations totaling about $7.8 million included new heating, lighting and plumb­ing systems; age-appropriate youth centers; adult, youth and family locker rooms; a hot tub; indoor track; aerobics room and wellness center, along with $349,000 in TechnoGym equipment which uses an electronic card system to personalize machines for each person.

The Hancock County Agency on Aging and AMVETS Post 21 agreed to swap properties in 2009. The Senior Center moved to the former post home on East Melrose Avenue, and the AMVETS moved to the former Senior Center on West Trenton Avenue. The center also got a new ability-appropriate fitness center, thanks to the Hancock Leadership Class of 2009.

The City Mission of Findlay is currently seeking to raise $2.7 million for a 12,682-square-foot addition at the main building on West Main Cross Street. The addition would increase the number of beds for homeless men from 23 to 45. Beds for women would increase from six to 20. Family units would be increased from three to six. The addition also would address needs for a larger dining room and kitchen.

The Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

A new veterans memorial at Findlay’s Maple Grove Cemetery was completed and dedicated on Memorial Day of 2003 at a cost of $225,000.

St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church completed a new $8.3 million, 35,519-square-foot church building on Bright Road in 2003. A 24-foot-tall crucifix hangs in the apse of the church. An $8 million addition to the parish school followed. The single-story primary school became a two-story building, which brought all of the students, from preschool to eighth grade, to the same campus.

The Hancock County Agricultural Service Center on County 140 opened in 2001. The building houses the Hancock County Cooperative Extension Office, the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, Natural Resources Conservation Services, Ag Credit and Hancock Soil and Water Conservation offices.

Children got a new place to play when the Fort Findlay Playground, a 20,000-square-foot playground, was built at Emory Adams Park in 2001. Children had a hand in its building as an architect visited local schools beforehand to gather their ideas. The playground was constructed over a period of several days by hundreds of local volunteers.

The inaugural trip of Flag City Honor Flight last June hosted 78 veterans who flew to Washington, D.C., for a one-day trip to see the World War II Memorial and other landmarks.

The University of Findlay has made major strides over the past 11-plus years. The $7 million Russ & Peg Armstrong Sports Complex was built in 2003 on land adjacent to the former Foodtown store on North Blanchard Street. The complex includes two practice football fields, a softball complex, baseball diamonds, an outdoor track, and several tennis courts.

In 2004, a nearly 30-acre tract of land was donated to the university by Findlay’s Hancor Inc. Located on the city’s southern end behind Hancor’s headquarters, the parcel will be used as a natural habitat preserve.

The university purchased the Davis Street property that had been Owens Community College’s former campus, and relocated the college of pharmacy to the building.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the university’s Mazza Museum in the Virginia B. Gardner Fine Arts Pavilion. Already a premier destination for those interested in children’s book art, the museum launched a $2.2 million fundraising drive in 2004 to create more room for its bursting-at-the-seams collection and ongoing activities. A $1 million donation from Michael and Robin Gardner in December 2005 pushed the museum’s campaign over the top by $200,000, thereby ensuring the construction of the 8,000-square-foot addition along with additional fringes, such as the creation of an outdoor children’s reading garden with sculptures. The addition was dedicated in May 2007.

The university observed its 175th anniversary that same year.

The Dr. C. Richard Beckett Animal Science Building, located at the university’s Animal Sciences Center on U.S. 68 south of Findlay, was opened in 2009. The building honors Dr. Beckett for conceiving and helping to start the pre-veterinary program at the university nearly 30 years ago.

The Rieck Center for Habitat Studies held its 20th anniversary this spring. The center, at 13711 Delaware Township 166, Mount Blanchard, is the former site of the Hancock County Humane Society, which leased the property to the center for $1 a year in 1992 when it moved to Findlay. The property was taken over by the university in 2003.

Owens Community College’s Findlay campus got a new home in 2005 — a $17 million campus at the corner of Township 212 and Bright Road. The following year, the college started construction of a 26,641-square-foot, $4.2 million Community Education and Wellness Center.

Brown Mackie College, formerly Southern Ohio College, moved to its new home on Fostoria Avenue, the site of the former RCA factory, in 2007. A 26,000-square-foot renovation, of which 18,000 square feet represented an expansion at the site, was completed in 2010. This year, four bachelor’s degree programs were introduced in the areas of business administration, criminal justice, health care administration and legal studies.

And, it’s exciting times for Findlay City Schools. Three new buildings are on the rise, including Glenwood and Donnell middle schools and the new Millstream Career and Technology Center, thanks to a 4.3-mill bond issue that was approved by voters in November 2009. The bond issue will raise $54 million and will be matched with $19 million from the Ohio School Facilities Commission.

Washington Elementary School on Main Street was closed in 2008 and students moved to a building on Broad Avenue. The former elementary school was then auctioned and purchased by the Church of the Living God for $152,500.

Findlay and Hancock County schools entered the world of the virtual classroom by contracting with Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association to provide online curriculum for the Findlay Digital Academy. The online school is for high school students who are at risk of failing or dropping out of school. Students attend the online school from their homes.

In April 2012, Cooper Tire announced that it is partnering with the Findlay schools to build a new track and field facility behind the high school. Cooper Tire said it plans to “commemorate its 100-year anniversary in the tire industry and its heritage in the Findlay community with an investment in a new, state-of-the-art sustainable track and field complex at Findlay High School.” Cooper is contributing $600,000 toward the $1.46 million project.

Hancock County voters renewed a 1.9-mill operating levy for Blanchard Valley Center in 2010. The levy generates about $3 million annually for the center, which operates the county’s programs for the developmentally disabled.

Special Kids Therapy, a nonprofit organization started in 2003 to help special health care needs children and their families, moved from its location on Lima Avenue to Blanchard Valley Center earlier this year. The move is part of a partnership between the two organizations. The move is intended to increase accessibility to the group’s playroom.

Kan Du Art Studio opened in 2011, bringing a new community of artists to downtown Findlay, those who are eager to show that a disability is no inability when it comes to the world of art. The studio on South Main Street is an extension of Blanchard Valley Industries, Hancock County’s work habilitative program for adults with developmental disabilities. Kan Du had operated out of Blanchard Valley Center since 2007.

There have been several notable deaths in the community since 2000.

Findlay native Patrick W. Rooney, who retired as head of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., died at 67 in December 2002.

Ed Heminger, chairman of the board of Findlay Publishing Co. and former publisher of The Courier, died in December 2011. He was 85. Heminger represented the third of five generations of his family to publish or work at The Courier.

Byron Boutwell, who served as Hancock County sheriff for 16 years starting in 1981, died in September 2009 at the age of 82.

Wolf: 419-427-8419

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