Downtown Minneapolis' population has surged past 50,000 for the first time, prompting business and political leaders to celebrate the milestone Wednesday while pledging to do more about a corresponding rise in crime.

During its annual meeting, held at the Armory, the Minneapolis Downtown Council revealed that 51,288 people were living in central-city neighborhoods by the end of 2019.

Construction cranes are putting up apartment buildings in former surface parking lots across downtown, where 10,400 people have moved since 2017. In all, the population has risen 60% since 2006.

It's the largest residential population that downtown has ever seen, surpassing the number who lived there during the city's population peak in 1950, said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council.

"Without a doubt, this is the high-water mark for the ­downtown population, and it's going to continue to grow for the next several years just based on the projects we know will be delivered," Cramer said.

More than half the $2.1 billion in permits issued in the city came from the wards that encapsulate downtown. In all, 2,500 more rental apartments are under construction, according to the Downtown Council.

Among the newest apartment buildings are the Ironclad and the City Club Minneapolis CBD. Another, Eleven, broke ground near the Mississippi River last year and will become the tallest and most expensive condominium tower in the state.

At Wednesday's meeting, Mayor Jacob Frey said he was excited to see downtown turn from what a resident once described to him as a "quaint and quiet" place into one that is "active, lively and beautifully diverse."

"After decades of surface parking lots as a fixture, I'm thrilled to see downtown transforming," he said.

But last year's residential growth was marred by a series of violent attacks on strangers over the summer, which led some to question their safety downtown.

The number of reported robberies, shootings and property crimes rose in the first half of last year when compared with 2018, according to police data. An analysis by the Star Tribune showed the booming Downtown East neighborhood surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium saw a 70% increase in serious crime last year.

Speaking to an audience of hundreds at Wednesday's event, Frey said the city is working to address downtown's "perception of safety." The city is looking to train and hire an additional class of police cadets and take other measures, he said.

"Are we talking about more police officers? Yes, I am," Frey said in an interview. "I'm also talking about improved lighting, affordable housing, wraparound services for our homeless community and violence-prevention work."

The Minneapolis Downtown Council is taking its own initiatives, including moving up the start date for increasing police presence to April, Cramer said. The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District will also station more "ambassadors," known for their green and blue uniforms, on Nicollet Mall at S. 9th Street.

"That's been sort of a chronic hot spot, especially for some of the livability challenges that we have downtown," Cramer said. "We just want to have a positive presence at that intersection."

More ambassadors will also be walking downtown around bar close this summer, he said.

Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753