FREMONT -- Ever since the city incorporated in 1956 by combining five townships into one, Fremont leaders have been looking to develop a traditional downtown.

They're still trying.

"We have a vision and planning fatigue for downtown," Councilwoman Anu Natarajan said Tuesday. "We've done this many times, but now it's time to pivot and make it happen."

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the city's Downtown Community Plan and design guidelines and rezoned about 110 acres in the heart of the city.

Leaders hope to "create a heart for Fremont there" by building a high-density, pedestrian-friendly destination where people live, work and shop without necessarily using a car.

"We want to create an area that's vibrant for people to live and visit," said Wayne Morris, the city's senior planner. "We want to make it a place where people want to be in Fremont."

The area -- bounded by Fremont Boulevard, Mowry Avenue, Paseo Padre Parkway and Walnut Avenue -- is about a block from the Fremont BART station, a key asset for the transit-oriented plan.

The district's current set of disparate structures and uses include the single-story City Hall, which is a block from a Hooter's restaurant, while a one-story dental office stands near an abbreviated row of single-family residences and two strip malls with popular ethnic restaurants.

In a presentation that preceded the council's vote, Morris and a team of consultants said the new downtown will be created by totally changing the area's physical appearance.

Capitol Avenue, which cuts through most of the district, will be lengthened and connected to Fremont Boulevard, according to the Downtown Community Plan. Also, the area's long, vehicle-friendly streets will be divided into several blocks, and new buildings will front roadways and border enlarged sidewalks. This will promote walking and generate foot traffic for planned ground-floor retail. In addition, the amount of office space and housing units will be greatly increased.

"This is a big plan, a big dream," Mayor Gus Morrison said. "It sets high standards."

Now, the city needs to deal with several crucial details, including land costs after negotiating with the area's property owners and identifying the price of infrastructure improvements.

City leaders are mindful of how unlucky timing in the boom-and-bust economy has pulled the plug on past downtown plans.

"The economy is getting better now," Councilman Bill Harrison said. "So, I hope we're hitting our stride. Let's hope we hit the market at a good time."

Richard Varrasso, a lifetime Fremont resident who lives in heart of the district, praised the downtown concept. Varrasso, 55, said he hopes the proposed development is a "people-oriented interactive area" that gives families entertainment options and brings the community together.

He also wants Fremont to build a performing arts auditorium, an idea frequently echoed both by residents and city planners.

"It's 2012 -- it's about time," said Varrasso, 55. "By the time I get to be 80 years old, maybe they're finally going to have something."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.