Will Rivertown Finally Be Revitalized?

On February 14th, staff recommended that the Antioch City Council adopt a resolution in support of the City filing an application under the State’s “Sustainable Communities Planning Grant and Incentive Program” in order to fund the preparation of a Specific Plan for the City’s Downtown Area.

The City is requesting a grant from the state in the amount of $500,000 in order to retain consultants to prepare the specific plan, as well as to offset staff costs to administer the Specific Plan effort, estimated to take approximately 18 months.

First a little background. As of 2005, the City’s Waterfront Development Plan had been stalled for more than a decade. Insufficient funds were supposedly the reason for the delay, which may have been true due to past councils making a number of unwise decisions.

These include lending developers millions of dollars, contributing over $1 million for the construction of Humphrey’s Restaurant, miscalculating and delaying state Department of Boating and Waterways loan repayments for the Marina, and allowing the infamous Roger Moore to misappropriate more than $3 million of the city’s money for the failed San Diego ferryboat project.

In 2005, however, the Council decided that in order to move ahead on the revitalization of downtown they would put the ball in the hands of one master developer and solicited interest from 10 major developers, later narrowing the field down to four: Arcadia G&M, D.R. Horton, Lennar Bay Area Urban Division, and Reynolds and Brown.

Firms were anxious to compete because Rivertown was in a redevelopment district, allowing the City to use eminent domain powers to underwrite affluent firms seeking to build major projects. But once again plans stalled.

In April of 2007 Guy Bjerke, the City’s Economic Development Director, Concord City councilmember and CEO of the Home Builders Association of Northern California, presented the City’s Economic Development Commission with an update on downtown revitalization efforts.

Discussed was the need to amend the city’s general plan and zoning ordinance in the Rivertown Focus Area to allow mixed-use development and conduct a baseline parking study to determine the existing amount of parking downtown, a study useful in planning for a ferry terminal and future revitalization projects.

If the City does get the grant money, will the plans come to fruition this time around? Will we really get ferry service, a cleaned up waterfront and businesses that will lure us to visit what was once a vital part of our city? Or will developers just build “stack and pack,” high-density, mixed-use projects like they plan to do around Antioch’s new eBART station?

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