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On Tierra Verde, the ‘Auto Trader’ compound is for sale

Stuart Arnold collected cars and good times.
From this view, the home of the late Stuart Arnold is on the left side of the cul de sac, with tennis courts and all that lawn overlooking the water.
From this view, the home of the late Stuart Arnold is on the left side of the cul de sac, with tennis courts and all that lawn overlooking the water. [ Courtesy of Matt Dahlberg ]
Published Apr. 26
Updated Apr. 26

Stuart Arnold liked cars. He liked them so much that in 1973 he started a unique publication called Auto Trader, full of ads with photos that made it easier to buy and sell cars. But as that original 15-cent magazine grew into Traders for boats, planes, motorcycles and bargains of all sort, netting Arnold a fortune, he was able to indulge another passion: yachting. He began buying waterfront lots on then lightly developed Tierra Verde so he would have a place to park his sumptuous vessels — including one floated by barge from Italy — and host what became legendary onboard parties.

Now, four years after Arnold’s death, his family is selling six of those lots. One has a tennis court and another an ’80s-era home that could be razed or, as Arnold did, used as a guesthouse and weekend getaway. Priced at $10.9 million, the six-lot parcel has enough space to build several new homes and dock two boats longer than 100 feet.

“This is one of the largest, most unique waterfront properties ever offered in the Tampa Bay area,” says Jennifer Zales, a Coldwell Banker agent who is listing the property with Arnold’s granddaughter Fallon, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and herself a Realtor.

Daughter-in-law Valerie Arnold said Arnold was “eccentric, very generous, kind and giving. He loved to watch others have a good time and never would you know how much stress or pressure he was under. His energy went into being the ringleader of a good time.”

Those boisterous good times on Tierra Verde and at Arnold’s homes in Las Vegas, Key West and Clearwater stemmed from hard work and hustle.

By the time he was in his 30s, Arnold had owned a bar in his native Bronx, edited a powerboat magazine in California and done marketing for a South American airline (where he met his first and only wife, a flight attendant).

In 1973, to be near his parents, who had retired to Florida, he applied for a job selling used car ads for the St. Petersburg Times. But the interviewer kept him waiting so long that he left, went to a nearby art supply store and bought what he needed to cobble together a new magazine: Auto Trader.

Driving around in his VW, Arnold snapped pictures of cars for sale and sold ads for $4. The ability to show what a car looked like for the price of a few photo-less lines in a classified newspaper ad proved so popular that Auto Trader immediately began making money. Arnold and son Stuart Jr., who was helping him, soon moved from a tiny rented office in Treasure Island to the magazine’s own building in Largo. And the good times began to roll.

As a youth, Arnold had learned to sail on Cape Cod and while attending boarding school at Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg. Flush with the success of Auto Trader, he began buying boats and docking them at a marina on Tierra Verde. But as his zeal for boating grew, he acquired nearby waterfront lots with a house where he could stay on weekends, the boats a few steps from the back door. (His main home was an 8,000-square-foot Victorian in Clearwater.)

Stuart Arnold, 82, was the founder of the Auto-Trader magazine, which grew to become one of the largest classified magazines in the country. He died Sept. 11, 2017.
Stuart Arnold, 82, was the founder of the Auto-Trader magazine, which grew to become one of the largest classified magazines in the country. He died Sept. 11, 2017.

Among Arnold’s first boats was a 75-foot Shearwater, which came with a mini-submarine. He got his son to test it out in the swimming pool “and almost drowned him,” Valerie Arnold says.Arnold especially coveted Ivory Lady, a luxurious 103-foot oceangoing vessel built in Hong Kong. But, reluctant to send the hefty down payment to a company in China, he instead settled for the 105-foot Dolce Vita, an Italian sister ship of one owned by Christina Onassis.

Not long after Arnold had Dolce Vita renovated in Genoa and barged to Florida, he learned that Ivory Lady was for sale in Fort Lauderdale.

“He said, ‘I’ll take it,’ " Valerie Arnold recalls. He delighted in asking family and guests whether they would rather go out on the speedy Dolce Vita or the slower Ivory Lady.

In summer, family members often flew north on Arnold’s Lear jet and cruised around New England on Ivory Lady. (A licensed pilot, he also owned planes and a Hughes 500 helicopter.)

The Trader empire expanded to several titles and 25 markets across the country. Arnold bought out competitors and sold Trader franchises, making others wealthy, too.

Arnold had no plans to sell his company. Then in 1988, Cox Enterprises, owner of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other papers, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The price wasn’t disclosed but he later said it was “barrels full of money.”

Flush with cash from the sale, Arnold bought several acres in Largo to start CPN Television, which he hoped would become a major TV production studio. But that never panned out. He sold it to Hubbard Broadcasting in 1999.

In 2017, Arnold died at age 82. His family still thinks of him as a fun-loving, swashbuckling figure “who played the role of a real-life James Bond without the violence,” as Valerie Arnold puts it. In addition to all of his boats and flying machines, he owned lots of cars of course, including a Lamborghini, a Lotus and a Ferrari.

But, contrary to his image, he almost never drove the exotic vehicles, opting for less flashy rides.

“He always had a Cadillac,” Valerie Arnold says. “Different colors, but always a Cadillac. That’s what he drove. That and a minivan.”