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Once again, the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market can no longer squeeze under one roof.

But don't expect the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center to get any bigger — as it did five years ago to accommodate Utah's largest convention. Salt Lake County isn't planning an addition.

And yet, the outdoor exhibition is growing, so much so that newcomers such as Coleman Outboard Motors, Survivor Firestarters and Eco-Que Portable Grills were forced to showcase their wares in a cavernous tent that stretches nearly a city block north of the Salt Palace.

"We are literally like sardines in there," show director Kenji Haroutunian said. "We have every little strip of space spoken for."

That rising popularity of Outdoor Retailer is making organizers look hard at the direction of the show.

Haroutunian said questions of space — for exhibits and guests — will be "the topic of conversation and negotiation" in deciding whether the convention stays in Salt Lake City or goes elsewhere once its contract expires in 2014.

Much is at stake. Outdoor Retailer draws more than 43,000 visitors to Utah a year through its summer and winter shows. The impact: About $39 million to Utah's economy.

But county officials don't see a bigger Salt Palace as the answer.

"We are not considering an expansion of the Salt Palace at this time," said Erin Litvack, who oversees the facility as the county's director of community services. "We don't consider that to be in the best interest of Salt Lake as a convention destination."

Instead, county officials are considering partnering with a private developer to build a 1,000-plus-room hotel — bigger than any other Utah lodge — in the heart of the capital's convention district. Not only would it include a large bloc of rooms for big conventions, but also 80,000 to 100,000 square feet of additional conference space.

The price tag: Up to $300 million, according to early estimates. Although the hotel would be built largely with private dollars, government officials may put money toward a parking garage, meeting rooms or other infrastructure.

What would a headquarters hotel do for Outdoor Retailer? It would be a plus, Haroutunian said. Outdoor Retailer has booked rooms as far away as Park City and Ogden.

Still, exhibit space could affect the gathering's future. The Salt Palace filled to capacity last year when Outdoor Retailer sold 420,000 square feet of show space. This year, it sold 455,000 square feet.

Scott Beck, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the county needs to remain competitive to keep conventions like Outdoor Retailer in town. The answer for Outdoor Retailer, he said, may be a "multiday, multivenue" show that includes facilities such as thecounty's South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy.

Beck also spoke about making existing Salt Palace space more user-friendly for large conventions.

"Making this building more effective is absolutely under discussion," he said.

But a headquarters hotel remains a focal point for Beck, who says the county missed out on 140,792 overnight hotel stays last year because of inadequate lodging space.

"The amount of business we lose every year because of a lack of a convention center hotel," he said, "makes Outdoor Retailer look small."

Outside the Salt Palace on Thursday, conventiongoers streamed intermittently through the air-conditioned, but tent-like, annex to Outdoor Retailer.

Cameron Wheeler, a product manager for a green-grilling company known as Eco-Que, whose stoves can cook a steak with just nine briquettes, said foot traffic had been light, but not disappointing. Would he prefer the Salt Palace over the tent?

"Of course, everyone would like to be in there," he said. "But it's fine. We get enough traffic and it's great exposure."

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