ANTIOCH -- Efforts to pump life into downtown will receive a kick-start through a $427,000 grant to prepare a long-term plan for the historic area.

The California Strategic Growth Council approved Antioch's application last week, saying the rebounding economy provides an opportunity to reinvent the Rivertown area "as a vibrant and healthy transit-oriented community."

Noting how competitive the grant is, city officials said they were pleased and excited to be awarded the funding.

"I think it's a start, because we can't do anything without money," Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha said. "This will give us a little bit of direct funding, so we can get some ideas together and create a plan of action. "

The grant will allow Antioch to set policies on land-use issues such as entitlements and zoning ahead of time, Community Development Director Tina Wehrmeister said.

"It will allow private property owners to respond quickly and hopefully be shovel-ready," Wehrmeister said.

Antioch can still seek proposal requests for projects on properties it owns, she said.

One goal of Antioch's proposal is to connect downtown's Amtrak rail station to the future eBART station off Hillcrest Avenue, which could spur high-density housing and retail shops. One way that could happen is via shuttle, Wehrmeister said.

Antioch's grant application also discusses enhancing pedestrian and bicycle access to transit and walking trails along the San Joaquin River. The city's long-sought ferry terminal would also be part of that mix.

The state grant is funded by a 2006 voter-approved state bond for urban greening projects and sustainable community planning.

In recent months, Antioch officials and civic groups have started looking at past downtown plans that were put on hold years ago, including a study created by international development company Arcadis in 2006.

Sean Wright, CEO of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, said the funds will help cover staff time that Antioch cannot afford and speed up the work that can be done.

"It's extremely positive. It shows we're going in the right direction," Wright said. The next steps will include finding a consulting firm to aid the process, gathering public input and continuing to review the old documents.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.

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