LOWER MANHATTAN, New York City (WABC) -- The 9/11 Tribute Museum in Lower Manhattan closed its doors permanently Wednesday after being unable to rebound from pandemic losses.
The September 11th Families' Association, which founded the 9/11 Tribute Museum, hinted back in March that this day was coming, after a sharp decline in visitors and revenue since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Financial hardship including lost revenue caused by the pandemic prevents us from generating sufficient funding to continue to operate the physical museum," co-founder and CEO Jennifer Adams-Webb said.
The number of visitors has dropped from more than 500,000 in 2011 to just 26,000 last year.
"We're millions of dollars in debt with our lease, and to try and make that up on top of our annual operating cost is almost impossible without visitors or some intervention from our government," Adams-Webb said.
The museum on Greenwich Street, which is separate from the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at ground zero, will continue its presence online, which officials say will allow them to continue providing educational resources and support for the 9/11 community.
The Tribute Guided Walking Tour program, led by the Tribute Museum's 9/11 community of survivors, first responders, residents and family members, will also cease operation.
"Everything we've done, I've been proud of," volunteer Peter Bitwinski said. "The amount of handshakes and tears I've experienced over the 13 years is what made it all worth it."
Bitwinski cheated death twice inside the World Trade Center, first in 1993, when he was in the North Tower when the bombing happened.
"Building shook, lights went out, and within five minutes, smoke had reached our floor," he said.
In 2001, he was in an office on the 69th floor.
"This was a slam into the building, knocked me onto my desk," he said. "I get up and stand up, and the floor is not stable, it's rolling."
He didn't know if he'd make it, and working at the museum has helped him find peace.
"I remember whispering to myself, 'Is this where it all ends for me? Is this where I die?'" he said. "I still have a purpose, and I still want to share. I hope I haven't told my last story."
Much of the museum's physical collection will be moved to the New York State Museum in Albany.
The non-profit organization known as the September 11th Families' Association, which founded the 9/11 Tribute Museum, is working closely with the New York State Museum to facilitate the transfers.
The Association is coordinating with all of its donors to ensure the exhibits and artifacts are respectfully and properly handled.
The online educational resources can be found at the Tribute Museum's website.
The September 11th Families' Association was founded in November of 2001 to provide a voice and support to the 9/11 community.
The Tribute Museum opened in 2006, originally by the widows and families of FDNY members who died in the attacks, as a support mechanism for all the victim's families.
Since then, the museum has welcomed over 5 million visitors to learn from the personal perspectives of the 9/11 community.
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