ANTIOCH -- Hoping to create a vibrant neighborhood that could serve as a catalyst to revive downtown, city leaders have given the thumbs-up to developers to make their pitch for building townhouses on three city blocks.

Antioch owns roughly 3 acres of land on the east side of the historic Rivertown area, bordered by West Second and Third streets and between F Street and where A Street curves and turns into Second.

The city's control of the site and the upturn in the housing market make it an opportune time to move "full-speed ahead," City Manager Steve Duran said. Adding homes will provide an evening and weekend population downtown, thus making it more attractive to shops, restaurants and entertainment venues, he said.

"What we need to do is kind of like a mall, where you have an anchor on one end and an anchor on the other. And we can do the east end first because we control the real estate," Duran said.

The council agreed to solicit development proposals, requesting that community input be sought during the process.

"We need to grow this downtown area, and I believe it takes rooftops," Mayor Wade Harper said. "But we need to maintain the character of this community. Nothing is set in stone today,"

If it pencils out, plans could also call for the demolition of the Nick Rodriguez Community Center and Antioch Senior Center, with the caveat that a new 10,000-square-foot senior center would be built downtown or across town.

About a dozen residents from the Rivertown Preservation Society spoke against development on a vacant lot east of E Street, suggesting that area be considered as a city park for farmers markets, concerts or a veterans memorial to protect its scenic views of the Delta.

"It sits at the heart of every event that has ever occurred in Rivertown. This parcel deserves to be a shared property of all the residents, not just a lucky few," said resident Kerry Motts.

Resident Chris Valenta said development of the lot would be "like selling your soul to the devil."

"There's one property in Antioch you should not be doing this to," he said.

That piece of land has long been zoned for residential development and has received community scrutiny in the past, Duran said.

"We can do all the outreach in the world, but it's not going to get downtown revitalized," Duran said.

He added that the former Hickmott Cannery property east of A Street, despite soil-contamination issues, could be better suited for a park because it's larger and more open to the water. A representative for the owner of that land recently approached the city.

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. Officials are also looking at past downtown plans in the process, including a study created by international development company Arcadis in 2006.

As for Tuesday's proposal request, developers must submit bids by Aug. 14.

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