Hastings, one of Minnesota's oldest cities, is getting ready to try something new: sidewalk dining in its historic downtown near the banks of the Mississippi River.

The first sidewalk cafes, all extensions of existing establishments on or near Second Street East, could begin appearing in July, City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee said.

The City Council unanimously approved ordinance amendments this month to allow bars and restaurants to put tables out and serve alcohol on the city sidewalks.

"I think it's a nice addition to our downtown," Mayor Paul Hicks said after the vote.

The city historically has not allowed sidewalk cafes, Mesko Lee said.

Officials decided to reconsider after a request from Jennifer Melecio, co-owner of Bella Vista, an Italian restaurant that opened last October next to the new Hwy. 61 bridge.

"We took a more holistic approach and said, 'Downtown is a unique environment and if folks want to have a couple tables outside, what can we do to help support that?' " Mesko Lee said. "We're pretty excited about it. We've received only positive feedback."

Melecio, who saw how patrons enjoyed patio dining when she worked at La Grolla in St. Paul, is looking forward to adding sidewalk tables as soon as possible.

Her husband, Bernardo, is her partner in the venture, helping out with cooking and building the restaurant's tables.

"I've got plenty of sidewalk," Melecio said of her corner location in the 1928 building that formerly housed the Mississippi Belle restaurant. "It's inviting, people love it. It's not just me. There's other restaurants downtown that should get to enjoy having summer."

Melecio said she hoped to put five tables in front of her restaurant and five to 10 along the side, adding about 34 outdoor seats. Inside, the bar and restaurant at Bella Vista — the name means "beautiful view" in Italian and refers to the river view the location offers — can seat 96.

"Everybody's excited," Melecio said. "The city needs to grow and you want more people downtown. We'll get people to stop by and then they'll go shopping at the boutiques and antique stores."

Summertime buzz

Kim Sawicki, part owner of the 2nd Street Depot Bar and Grill, also plans to put some tables on the sidewalk. She said she is glad she won't have to turn down guests who want to dine or have a drink outside.

"We don't have a patio like other places do, so this would definitely help us to compete," Sawicki said. "Anything to get more business downtown."

Wendy Dodge-Agen, owner of the Onion Grille, said she is excited to have the opportunity to serve her full lunch and dinner menu to sidewalk diners, even if it's only at four or five tables.

"In Minnesota in the summer, people, I think, choose their dining based on the option of sitting outside," Dodge-Agen said. "It's definitely something that our customers request. It's going to look great and add some hustle and bustle out on our streets."

No one spoke June 1 when the council conducted a public hearing on the sidewalk cafe proposal.

Restaurants will have to pay a $50 license fee to have the city staff review the layout of their sidewalk seating. They will have to pay the fee again only if they change the layout, which would require another city review.

Owners also will have to pay $50 to obtain a liquor license for sidewalk dining areas, with a $25 yearly renewal fee.

The sidewalk cafe regulations do not apply to restaurants operating patios on private property.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.