Thailand's leading exhibitor, Major Cineplex, has been awarded a contract to operate the country's largest entertainment complex - housing 16 screens and more than 4,000 seats - which will form part of a mammoth shopping and leisure development to be built in the heart of downtown Bangkok.

The ambitious $139m (baht 6bn) development - the Siam Paragon - is a joint venture between two of Thailand's biggest shopping centre operators - The Mall Group and the Bangkok Intercontinental Hotel Co. The entertainment component will spread over 20,000 square metres and also contain shops, restaurants and 50 lanes of bowling.

One of the 16 screens will be an Imax theatre with around 600 seats. Major Cineplex already has a 50% share in Thailand's only Imax cinema, also in Bangkok.

Apart from shopping and entertainment, the Siam Paragon will also house a cultural centre, an upscale hotel, luxury serviced apartments and a landscaped park.

Construction - on the site of the former Siam Intercontinental Hotel - is scheduled to start at the end of this year for completion in 2005.

"This project will set a new benchmark of quality for Thai cinemas," said Major Cineplex president and CEO Vicha Poolvaraluck. "We're aiming at the ex-pat and tourist market. The catchment area is much wider than Bangkok."

Major Cineplex - the first Thai cinema operator to develop standalone entertainment complexes - recently overtook rival EGV to become Thailand's leading exhibitor with 11 locations and 102 screens.

The company raised $18.5m (baht 800m) when it floated on the Bangkok stock exchange in May, paving the way for further expansion.