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It’s a prime piece of real estate, right there at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Brandywine Street NW. It has potential in all the mixed-use ways that make urban designers drool.

And so Tenleytown’s Maxim building started out with a bidding price of $5 million today in a foreclosure auction at a downtown law firm. The previous mixed-use project for the property fell through.

When the bidding started, the scene resembled a typical recent day at the New York Stock Exchange. No one wanted to buy at the starting price. Silence. An estimated 60 people crowded around a conference table.

So then someone threw out a bid of about 2.5 million bucks, and auctioneer Tranzon was in business. Bidders then went back and forth, driving the price up to $3.7 million. Then they lost interest, perhaps considering that this strip of Wisconsin Avenue has long been a boring and unhip place to do anything in the District of Columbia.

A ceiling appeared to have been hit. $3.7 million—that was $1.3 million lower than where the bidding started. So the auction recessed for a bit, while officials from Columbia Bank discussed whether they’d move forward with the auction.

They came back and said, indeed, they’d be selling the property—not exactly a huge vote of confidence in our economic outlook.

But none other than maverick D.C. developer Doug Jemal was there to save the day. The regular-guy-projecting rich man proceeded to engage in a round of bidding against a representative from American University. The bidding ended at—surprise!!!—$5 million. Jemal came away the winner.

Afterward, I caught up with Jemal in the building’s elevator. His son stood next to him with a thick roll of architectural plans under his arm.

I asked Jemal why he’d waited to up the ante until the very end. I never saw him put up his hand once during the first round of bidding. “I’m allowed to do whatever I want to do,” he replied.

Reporting by Ruth Samuelson, phoned in to Editor Erik Wemple. Late additions by Ruth Samuelson.