The Southwest Virginia Energy Center near Bristol has sat mostly empty for the past two years.
But soon, it will have a new purpose. The center is run by the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center Foundation. It was meant to attract businesses in the energy sector. Now, leaders are taking a different approach and they've found a new tenant.
Dr. Timothy McGarry, an orthopedic surgeon from Abingdon has signed on to lease the entire 15-thousand sqaure foot building. He already has big plans to make use of the space.
Above the hustle and bustle of Lee Highway, it's sweeping views and crickets at the Energy Center off Exit 7.
"It's a very visible building," Foundation CEO Duffy Carmack said. "It's generated a great deal of curiosity in Southwest Virginia, within our region, as to what it is, what's going to be there."
The energy efficient building was built in 2014 with $8 million dollars from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.
"The building generates over half of its electrical needs through solar and wind generations," Carmack said.
At the time, the Foundation hoped the state-of-the-art facility would pay off.
"The timing of the switch in the coal industry in Southwest Virginia happened at the same time the building was being constructed," Carmack said."And so, the research and development companies related to clean fuel energy or coal production were just not as available."
So in the last two years, the building has only seen a handful of tenants.
"Unfortunately to date, it has often looked vacant with the number of cars in the parking lot," he said.
Soon, that's going to change. Earlier this year, Foundation leaders decided to switch to Plan B, renting the space for commercial use. And within months, it found a permanent tenant.
Right now, orthopedic surgeon Dr. McGarry works out of a 2,700 square foot building in Abingdon. The Energy Center is nearly six times that size.
So his practice is already looking at creative ways to use the space.
"Looking at services may be like physical therapy or anything related to helping patients get back on their feet," business manager Michael McGarry said.
And they're focusing on a different kind of energy.
"That image of energy, helping these patients get their energy back," he said.
It's a shift that Foundation leaders consider a big step in the right direction.
"Having a regular income stream to the foundation with a new tenant will help the foundation support the mission and the work at the SWVa. Higher Ed Center.
"It's important to see that there are people investing in this community who are really trying to bring activity and commerce to the region," McGarry said.
Dr. McGarry's practice is set to move and open at the Energy Center, next month.
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