ORLANDO-The planned first phase of the $150 million, one million-sf Altamonte Town Center has passed its first hurdle with approval from the Altamonte Springs, FL planning board but the city commission still has to sign off on the 24-acre venture that calls for an undetermined amount of office, retail, hotel and residential development, seven miles north of Downtown Orlando.

Town Center is the most ambitious commercial/retail/residential undertaking the Orlando suburb has attempted in 25 years.

Atlanta developers Michael B. Vlass and James F. Jacoby and Orlando developer Martin, Mantle and Bignon plan two restaurants of undetermined size and a 16-screen movie theater in the first phase tentatively scheduled for completion by fourth quarter 2003.

Second and third phases of the project will see the development of a 3,500-seat, stadium-styled outdoor theater; a parking garage; and office-retail.

The nearby eight-story, 227-room Embassy Suites Orlando North in the 1,375-acre central business district of Altamonte Springs will become part of the Town Center master plan.

Vlass and Jacoby couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline to learn their thoughts on competing directly with another planned 18-screen theater at the nearby 1.2-million-sf Altamonte Mall owned by Chicago-based General Development Co.

An Orlando retail broker tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity that one of the theaters will go under quickly because “the critical population mass just isn’t here yet” to sustain both ventures.

But Town Center developers remain firm on plans to break ground on the first phase by year end, contractor sources following the project tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

“They feel their theater, at least, will succeed because it will be in surroundings newer than the 25-year-old mall,” a subcontractor who will be working on the project tells GlobeSt.com.

AMC Entertainment Corp. of Kansas City, MO is partnering with General Growth on the theater development at the Altamonte Mall.

Atlanta-based MegaStar Cinemas LLC has contracted with Town Center’s corporate development arm, Altamonte Springs Investments LLC, to build a $16 million, 75,000-sf, 3,750-seat multiplex cinema at the 14.5-acre Cranes Roost Lake site.

This is three-year-old MegaStar’s first Florida venture. The theater will also be the first in the area to offer VIP suites for small business groups or private parties; a children’s birthday party suite; and a full-time concierge for personalized customer services, concepts that MegaStar developed in 1999.

Screening auditoriums will have 125 seats to 500 seats; wall-to-wall screens; digital sound; and stadium seating on 18-inch risers and 48-inch-wide rows.

The theater will be built at a hard construction cost of about $4,211 per seat or $213.33 per sf. The project comes just as six other area multi-screen theaters are being revived after a two-year industry slowdown.