The dangerous and risque neighbourhood around Auckland's Fort St is best known for crime, brothels, stripclubs, backpackers and, of course, the White Lady burger cart.

But this rough diamond is transforming from grit to glam with work to open a swanky new entertainment precinct.

The historic Imperial Buildings, which housed Auckland's first big movie theatres, are being renovated into a glitzy mall running from Fort Lane to Queen St, with new wine bars, silver-service restaurants, shops and character offices built around an inner courtyard.

The council has begun related work on upgrading Fort St, Fort Lane and Jean Batten Place to pedestrian-friendly streets, to be completed in August next year.

The downtown area near Fort Lane was named the "most dangerous spot for random street violence" by Metro .

But the area could become Auckland's answer to the Meatpacking District in New York which went from the city's hub of illicit activity to its trendiest bar neighbourhood.

Fort St's Imperial and Everybody's buildings were bought by Phillimore Properties last year. The Queen St frontages are occupied by luxury retailers Gucci and Louis Vuitton but the back of the expansive complex has been hidden from the public for decades.

The buildings were previously used for offices and paint manufacturing. But plans by architects Fearon Hay, lodged with the council, reveal the refurbished buildings will have soaring spiral staircases, light shafts, a food and beverage court and space for six bars and restaurants.

The Newmarket-based Pack Group, which owns leading bars including Matterhorn in Wellington and the multi-level Snapdragon in the Viaduct, is rumoured to be the tenant. Neighbouring bar-owners have begun upgrading their premises in anticipation of Fort Lane becoming a hot destination.