1990 to 1999: Big Ten, Big Celebrations, Big Worries | Town&Gown – Statecollege.com

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The ’90s began with an event that would change Penn State’s athletic program forever: The university joined the Big Ten, giving up 103 years of athletic independence. Just four years later, the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten football title, and on January 2, 1995, fans took to the streets in downtown State College after Penn State beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Festivities were prominent in the mid-1990s. State College held its inaugural First Night event on December 31, 1994. Bellefonte celebrated its bicentennial in 1995, followed by State College honoring its centennial in 1996, and Philipsburg holding its bicentennial in 1997. County residents also celebrated — or bemoaned — the winter of 1993 to 1994, when a record-breaking 109.3 inches of snow fell, including a single-storm record of 28.4 inches on March 2 and 3. Celebrating got out of hand, though, in July 1998 during an alcohol-induced riot on Beaver Avenue downtown.
In 1993, the State College Area Chamber of Commerce merged with the Centre County Industrial Development Corporation to form the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County. A year later, another countywide development brought 911 emergency phone service to every municipality.
Construction seemed to be a permanent part of the landscape. Ground was broken in 1990 for the first phase of Penn State’s Innovation Park, and the Penn State Scanticon Conference Center Hotel (now the Penn Stater) opened in 1994 as the largest university-based conference center in the country. In 1996 the 16,500-seat Bryce Jordan Center began hosting Nittany Lion and Lady Lion basketball games and bringing big-name entertainers to State College. Other construction on campus included the Palmer Museum of Art (1993), Paterno Library (1994), a major HUB expansion (1997), and the Centre County and Penn State Visitor Center (1999).
At the University Park Airport, a new passenger terminal was completed in 1993 and the runway lengthened in 1997 to accommodate larger planes. Retail began its shift to big-box stores as the county’s first Walmart opened in 1991 on North Atherton Street, with the Benner Pike store and Sam’s Club following four years later. The sinkhole-plagued Mount Nittany Middle School finally was completed in in 1995, and the county’s first charter schools opened in 1998. Despite fierce opposition, in 1996 traffic diverters were installed to limit vehicles in College Heights. The following year, the university approved the lease of 80 acres of its land for the development of the Village at Penn State.
In 1995, the first execution in 33 years occurred at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview; two more executions would take place there before the state’s 2015 moratorium. Somber news of another sort attracted far-flung attention on September 17, 1996, when a 19-year-old woman with a history of mental health problems opened fire on Penn State’s HUB lawn, killing one student and injuring another.
As 1999 drew to a close, Centre County residents stocked up on bread, milk, and candles amid worries that computer systems would crash as the year flipped to 2000, shutting down everything from traffic signals to banking. Everyone celebrating at First Night State College and elsewhere in the county learned the answer at midnight: Y2K was not a problem.
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