DERBY — Generations of residents disheartened by the condition of their dilapidated downtown showed a glimmer of optimism and enthusiasm Thursday for a proposed revitalization project that seeks their input, a first in the minds of many.

More than 120 residents and other local stakeholders attended the Community Voices Workshop at The Ballroom to generate ideas for Downtown Now!, Derby’s blueprint for progress. The initiative aims to improve downtown and, in particular, the south side of Main Street — “undeveloped land (with) undeveloped potential,” according to Mayor Anita Dugatto.

Representatives of DPZ Partners — an international urban design firm that city officials hired with state grant funding — told residents they welcome ideas from those who live in the community.

“When we get your comments we will have an X-ray of your community, an MRI … because you know this community a hundred times better than we do,” said Gianni Longo, president of New York-based GLA, a strategic plan and urban design corporation. He called the collaboration with residents a “50-50 balance, unprecedented in this community.”

Longo and Marina Khoury, of DPZ Partners, had residents sit at tables of 10 and identify local strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. They were also asked what people would like to see on the 14-acre site south of Main Street, which sits at the confluence of the Housatonic and Naugatuck rivers by Routes 34 and 8, in a transportation hub with train and bus stations.

Khoury encouraged them to think beyond the current assets that could be built upon. “Think about what could be,” she said.

After the brainstorming session, facilitators from each table shared their findings. Not surprisingly, many of them were on the same page. As strengths all selected the Greenway linear park, and the Green, a community gathering space and concert venue. Some included the historic Sterling Opera House and the public library. Among Derby’s weaknesses, residents mentioned the visually unappealing condition downtown, absentee landlords, neglected buildings, and the presence of the sewer treatment plant.

Residents say they envision a vibrant downtown with mixed-use structures and perhaps a movie theater and waterfront restaurant.

“I’d like to see Mom and Pop retail shops for the foot traffic,” said lifelong Derby resident and business owner Gino DiGiovanni, 35.

Resident Alexis Tomczak said she was encouraged by the chance to be a voice of change. In several past developer-driven attempts to revitalize the city center, city leaders would select a developer who generated the plan and unveil it to the public, without seeking suggestions from residents.

“And now we get to build it from the ground up,” Tomczak said.

Derby native Joan Shaw, 70, said she remembers her mother asking 50 years ago, “When are they going to do something downtown?”

“People who love Derby love Derby, and we all want it to be better,” Shaw said.

DiGiovanni said local residents often had similar ideas and goals for re-imagining the downtown area, which serves as a gateway to the community, “but our ideas couldn’t get off the kitchen table. Hopefully, we can get it to move forward this time.”

Dugatto said this is a comprehensive effort, and DPZ will help the city remove environmental, financial, technical and other barriers that hindered previous development.

Bill Purcell, president of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce, one of the workshop facilitators, said there is a general sense that “the time is now to capitalize on the city’s assets. Derby’s time has come.”

The next meeting, Community Choices Workshop to identify priorities, is scheduled for Oct. 26, and a five-day intense and interactive design workshop, or Community Charrette, will be held from Nov. 14-18. For details visit