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9/11 Tribute Museum in Lower Manhattan slated to close as attendance struggles to reach pre-pandemic levels

9/11 Tribute Museum in Lower Manhattan in need of help to stay open 02:27

NEW YORK - A museum that pays tribute to those impacted by 9/11 is set to close unless it receives help soon.

It opened as a gathering space in Lower Manhattan in 2006, years before the National September 11 Memorial Museum opened at Ground Zero.

As CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reported Friday, the 9/11 Tribute Museum's staff said the COVID pandemic is to blame.

"I was writing something when the plane hit from behind me, threw me onto my desk," said Peter Bitwinski, recounting the moment his life changed forever.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the former accounting manager rushed down from the 69th floor of the North Tower after a plane crashed into it.

"I survived by less than 15 minutes. It was important for me to remember everyone who was lost," Bitwinski said.

For the past 12 years, as a way to deal with the trauma, Bitwinski has shared his story as a volunteer guide at the 9/11 Tribute Museum.

"I feel so good, whether I speak to one person, 10 people, 100 people here. I come away having been healed a little bit more because I believe that the healing is for the rest of my life," Bitwinski said. "Yeah I had psychological counseling, but this place was always special to help me."

Bitwinski is one of many volunteers who were devastated to learn the museum may soon close its doors due to declining admissions after the pandemic.

"We were hopeful in 2021 that visitors would really start coming back in a strong way, but we rely heavily on international visitors and those visitors are still not back here," said Jennifer Adams-Webb, the museum's CEO.

Closing would be particularly painful to Adams-Webb, who lost her friend Meredith Lynn Whalen in the attack. Adams-Webb said the space has been a sanctuary for those impacted by the tragedy to cathartically share their stories.

The museum has no endowment fund to fall back on, she said. It relies almost entirely on admission fees to fund its operating budget. The organization is now putting out a plea for help. Without funding, the museum will close.

9/11 crane operator Daniel Noesgas hosts two to three tours a week as a guide detailing his time at Ground Zero. Noesgas said the thought of the museum closing is too much to bear.

"I'll be heartbroken," he said, "because it's something that should never be forgotten."

Many of the volunteers said the stories of 9/11 must be passed on to the next generation and they want to continue to be part of it.

If the museum closes, most of the collection will be moved to the New York State Museum in Albany.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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