Seating Dispute Puts Explorers Run in Sioux City in Jeopardy
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier looks at the dispute between the Sioux City Explorers and the city of Sioux City over the seating at Lewis & Clark Park.
The Sioux City Explorers with Track Record of Success
Since 1993, the Sioux City Explorers have made Lewis & Clark Park their home. The team was the creation of John Roost, who wanted to bring the first professional baseball team to his local community. As a result, the Explorers joined the old Northern League back in 1993, playing in the league until 2006 when they joined the American Association.
Roost wanted to give his beloved community an opportunity to watch professional baseball, and he has not only been able to do that, but he has given the team a winner. The team reached the playoffs four times through its first 15-years, but Manager Steve Montgomery has turned the club into a perennial powerhouse in the league, as they have been in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, including making the championship series in 2015 and 2019. The club even holds the record for the most victories in the season, winning 75 games in 2015.
The Battle Over Lewis & Clark Park Begins
Attendance has often been sparse, to say the least, as the Sioux City Explorers often find themselves near the very bottom in attendance. In 2021, for example, the club was third from the bottom, averaging 1,128 fans per game. In 2019, they were last, averaging 1,075 fans per contest.
Despite having a winning team, the club has failed to draw large numbers of fans. Even with low attendance, the Explorers owner has stayed committed to keeping his team in Sioux City. This is his community, after all, and he has been willing to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to keep his beloved team in Sioux City.
However, that relationship now looks like it is in jeopardy. Roost has been looking for upgrades to seating, not only to improve the fan experience, but to remove a potential safety hazard. With the seats decades-old, the owner is concerned that fans may get hurt when attending games. As a result, Roost has asked Sioux City Mayor Bob Scott and city Manager Bob Padmore to make upgrades to seating, but this request appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
While the team and city have spent a considerable amount of money-making upgrades to the stadium and other areas, including the playing surface, locker rooms, and stadium exterior, this is one additional area where improvements need to be made. However, funding for upgrades does not look like it is on the city agenda.
As a result, Roost has threatened to move the club to another city. In a statement provided by the team owner, he explained, “The Sioux City Explorers may be leaving Sioux City and, if we leave, we will never come back because I don’t need to spend in excess of $1 million each year to keep this team here if I’m not going to have a fantastic partner in the city of Sioux City.”
Creating a Barrier for Fans
The 2022 American Association season is less than three weeks from getting underway. The club will open the season in Kansas City, but then returns home on May 17 to play the expansion Lake Country DockHounds. The team explained that unless the 3,070 seats are replaced, fans may not return as “they don’t want to sit in broken seats.” This has led to numerous cancellations of tickets or for changes in seating requests, costing the team money.
In response, the city provided a letter to Roost explaining that there was not sufficient funds to completely overhaul all of the seating sections that needed to be replaced, but that the project would be completed over several years. The first of these plastic seats, 820 in all, are to be replaced this season, but would not be available until August.
That is not acceptable to the club. Lewis & Clark Park was built in 1993, and the seats were replaced with similar models in 2003. However, over the last 20 years the seats have become worn down due to constant exposure to the sun. This has created a situation where the seats need to be replaced.
Roost has even offered to pay to have the seats replaced himself as long as the city agreed to reimburse the Explorers’ owner for the costs. Sadly, the city gave him a flat “no,” explaining that this was not documented as part of the five-year Capital Improvements Budget. This has placed the team and the city at a stalemate.
Say It Ain’t So!
With Roost agreeing to pay for the seats himself and the city being unwilling to try to work out some kind of agreement, it could be inevitable that the Sioux City Explorers may be heading for greener pastures. This is a team that will be entering its 29th season of independent baseball in the city, but it could very well be its last.
Truthfully, the city has not supported the club, especially considering that the Explorers have been one of the best teams in the American Association since Montgomery became the manager. He is the only manager in the league to have his team in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, but attendance has not followed the success of the club.
To this point, Roost has been willing to lose money to keep his team in the city he loves. However, liability issues may make it necessary for the team to move. It would seem that the city would figure out a way to accept the offer of the Explorers’ owner so that fans could have a safe, fun experience at Lewis & Clark Park. For now, that is simply not the case.
Sioux City Explorers fans better enjoy baseball this season. They may not be hearing “Play Ball” at Lewis & Clark Park for very much longer.
By Robert Pannier