Middletown's first multiplex movie theater could be open for business in time for Thanksgiving, with a church, restaurants and retail shops to follow.

Middletown's first multiplex movie theater could be open for business in time for Thanksgiving, with a church, restaurants and retail shops to follow.

Westown Movies, a 12-screen theater with roughly 1,800 seats, is slated to be the first business to open in the 42-acre commercial development phase of Westown Town Center, which is slated to soon begin construction off Merrimac Avenue, just north of Del. Route 301 and immediately west of Walmart.

"Right now, if you live in the area and want to go to the movies, you have to go to Dover or Regal (People's Plaza in Glasgow), but soon those people will be coming to Middletown," said Jim Tancredi of DSM Commercial, the real estate broker and consultant for the retail segment of the project. "We think the traffic that this will draw is going to create a lot of value for the other restaurants and retail shops that also will be a part of this project."

Tancredi said he estimates the theater could attract as many as 400,000 people a year.

Although the owner of the future theater has not been announced, Tancredi said it is an independent company that operates other theaters in the region.

A groundbreaking for Westown Movies is tentatively scheduled for May with completion currently slated for mid-November, he said.

Middletown Town Council on Monday unanimously approved changes to the designed layout of the commercial project, which was originally approved in the late 1990s as a part of the 2,000-acre residential, commercial and industrial development known as Westown.

Today, the various aspects of that development project have added nearly 500 homes to Middletown through the creation of neighborhoods such as St. Anne's, South Ridge and Spring Arbor, as well as 225 acres of commercial and industrial development that have included Walmart, Kohl's, Walgreens and Chick-fil-A, among others.

The economy has had something of a chilling factor on the project in recent years and another 1,600 homes and nearly 650 acres of commercial and industrial development are approved, but have yet to be constructed, according to town officials.

"The idea from the start was to create a lifestyle community that offers homes, offices and shopping, and I think we're reaching a critical mass in terms of attracting some bigger, higher-end shops and restaurants," Tancredi said. "A big part of this project has always been an entertainment component that would help make this a destination for anyone living or visiting the area, and we think we will have achieved a big step toward that with this movie theater."

In addition to a 50,000-square-foot theater, the newly-approved site design of the commercial project calls for about 120,000-square-feet of retail space and a nearly 19,000 square-foot church to be located immediately adjacent to the theater.

The church building will eventually become the new home of Stone's Throw Church, which has been meeting at Appoquinimink High School since 2009.

"We're in the process now of completing the purchase of the land, and our goal is to have the new church ready in the next two to three years," said Dan Betters, the head pastor at Stone's Throw.

Betters said the total cost of the project would be about $2.5 to $3 million, including the land purchase. Of that, the congregation of about 400 has pledged $1.2 million, while the remainder will be financed.

"Right now, it's still all conceptual, but the plan is for it to include a large gathering space capable of holding up to 650 people with a stage built for presentations, concerts and community events, as well as office space and a children's theater," Betters said. "The location is really ideal for us because we wanted to stay in town limits and to be somewhere that is sort of in the middle of everything. Wherever the community is hanging out, that's where we want to be."