ANTIOCH -- After years of inactivity, this city's first crack at revitalizing its downtown is being met with increased localized opposition.

Antioch is soliciting developer proposals to build market-rate homes on roughly three acres of city-owned land -- including a vacant lot, the Antioch Senior Center and the Nick Rodriguez Community Center and Theater. Bids are due Thursday.

If it pencils out, plans would call for the demolition of the buildings and construction of a new 10,000-square-foot senior center on city property elsewhere.

The Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch sits where a proposal to build market rate homes for roughly three acres of Antioch owned land in Antioch,
The Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch sits where a proposal to build market rate homes for roughly three acres of Antioch owned land in Antioch, Calif., on Thursday, july 31, 2014. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

Since the City Council's June approval to solicit requests, a growing number of residents, many of whom live downtown and favor a town square on the lot, want to halt the process to allow more community discussion. They have gathered close to 1,000 signatures through a petition drive via social media and by word-of-mouth, packed a July city meeting to criticize the process and are considering a possible legal challenge.

"Our hope is that they slow down and talk to the community and have a dialogue about it," said Lee Ballesteros, owner of downtown business Indigo Skin Design and head of The Drama Factory, a new theater group renting the center.

"The process was backward; the request for proposal should have come last," said Don Bright, a member of the Rivertown Preservation Society.


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Local seniors, many of whom live in Rivertown and use the center almost every day, have also raised concerns. Linda Fredrickson, president of the Antioch Senior Citizens Club, said the seniors became alarmed when they heard about the possible demolition and move on the day of the council decision.

"Seniors don't like change," she said.

City leaders counter that it is still early in the process, and it is unknown what potential development may look like. They have also been meeting with the concerned residents.

"I'm trying to stay open and hear all sides. At this point, nothing has been proposed. Nothing is set in stone," Councilman Tony Tiscareno said, "It makes no sense to have input when it's based just on assumptions."

At the request of Mayor Wade Harper at the July meeting, the council Tuesday will discuss a timeline for community input, including a pair of focus groups with seniors and theater users next month. During that time, city staff will interview developers and see whether a new senior center is economically feasible.

Antioch would schedule a pair of public meetings after the City Council has reached an rights to negotiate agreement, City Manager Steve Duran said in a staff report.

Critics say that is far from what they were hoping for.

"It sure looks like the fix is in. At that point the deal is done," Bright said. "They don't understand that we don't want to talk about it after the fact. This would be for the rest of Antioch's history."

While playing cards and listening to live music on a recent morning, about a dozen seniors at the center said their main concern is paying more for gas to drive several miles to Prewett Park, particularly given that most are on fixed income.

Seniors would be OK with a new center in Rivertown, Fredrickson said, but added that their classes use the adjacent center, so a new building would have to be larger than 10,000 square feet.

One thing everyone agrees on something must be done to bring life into the languishing Rivertown area.

Antioch is in the midst of putting a $427,000 state grant toward preparing a long-term plan for the area, with a goal of making it a transit-oriented community.

Duran has called this first proposal on city land a "catalyst" that will spur others to build downtown and bring foot traffic at all hours of the day, which in turn will attract shops and restaurants.

But opponents counter that events would create a reason for people to go to Rivertown. They say the vacant lot could be a town square with an amphitheater and could host bi-weekly events such as farmers markets, concerts, car shows and bocce leagues.

A spruced-up community center, combined with a park, could boost Antioch's civic scene, Ballesteros said.

"That would bring a rotating mass of people coming down on a consistent basis," she said.

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