April 25, 2016


Steve Siler is a song writer, and founder and director of Music for the Soul, a non-profit music ministry. He is writing this column on behalf of Downtown Frankfort, Inc., a Kentucky Main Street program.

What If?

Local Entrepreneur a Font of Talent and Ideas.

Several years ago a young man packed his dog, record player, and camping gear into a 1979 FJ40 Land Cruiser and set out from Connecticut with the intention of relocating in New Mexico. But something happened on the way to the land of enchantment. The next thing Robert Kirkman knew he was attempting to plant a field of tobacco for his father just outside of Frankfort, Kentucky.

“It was a complete disaster,” Kirkman says of the results, though he can laugh about it now. “I was sunburned by nine in the morning!” By the time summer was gone, so was the traveling money. His mom suggested he consider taking advantage of in-state tuition and enroll at UK, which he did. New Mexico’s loss was Frankfort’s gain.

Now sixteen years a Frankfort resident, Kirkman is one of the bright young entrepreneurs bringing ideas, energy, and talent to the downtown area. 

You’ve probably seen Kirkman’s work even if you don’t realize it. For several years he worked refurbishing dry stone fences around the Frankfort area and later moved into barn restoration. He is skilled at working with a wide range of materials.

“It’s always been my dream to have a studio where I have the space to do anything. Where I can work in ceramics, do some metal, do some casting, welding, fabrication, woodworking.” Now he has it. It’s a treat just to peak in the window of his shop, Three Elements Design, located at 332 St. Clair St. downtown.  http://www.threeelementsdesigns.com

One of the newest improvements in the downtown area is an example of Kirkman’s handiwork. You’ll find it at the corner of St. Clair and Main – the new location of Canoe Kentucky. In fact, the first time I met him was when he gave a friend and me an impromptu tour of the building during the renovation process.

He told me how choosing to make an improvement to the corner location came about. “From where my shop is I’d see tourists trying to look ahead and see what the next block was like. They’d make it about halfway down St. Clair and then they’d turn around. So I watched that from 2010 until 2013. That’s why I bought the building. Because I think Main Street is very important and one of those two buildings on the corner had to be the anchor.”

Kirkman is encouraged to see others making improvements as well.  He feels a new energy happening downtown. “I love the grassroots community rebuilding of Frankfort. I’m seeing a bunch of small players and that’s great. There’s a momentum shift that’s happened. There is hope!” 

Kirkman owns other properties on Main and has great ideas for the kinds of businesses that would work for the community and bring visitors to town. He acknowledges he is equal parts “stubborn and optimistic.”  But that’s because he believes in what downtown can become.

“There is so much potential. I want to see it become more interesting for the people who live here and for the people who visit here.”

Spending a few minutes with the imaginative, hard-working Kirkman will make you wish you had the resources to help him make some of his great ideas for the downtown area become a reality.

Kirkman credits his mom and dad for instilling the work ethic he has today. “Both of them are monster workers.” And he credits Joe Dunn, the Crumbaughs, and the Grays with having gotten the ball rolling downtown, adding, “Joe Dunn is a pretty cool mentor.”

If you’re interested in investing in the future of Frankfort and seeing the downtown area become a more vibrant and attractive location for businesses and living space, a conversation with Robert Kirkman might be a good place to start.

I guarantee he’ll get you thinking, “What if?...”

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